UK Politics

Rating James Murdoch's performance before MPs

James Murdoch survived his second grilling by MPs on the culture, media and sport select committee.

He survived the comparison with a Mafia boss. He survived the claim that Asda was a better run business that News International. Most significantly he completely denied the accusation that he had lied about what he knew of phone hacking at the News of the World.

He had been called back to face MPs to explain inconsistencies in the evidence, in particular what he knew about widespread hacking and when he knew it. In black tie and with a poppy on his lapel Mr Murdoch appeared solemn. He was precise and insistent in his answers, at times combative.

He told them two former executives at the News of the World were to blame. The former top legal advisor Tom Crone and editor Colin Myler misled parliament and he disputed their version of events. He was clear: they did tell him about - but not show him or explain the full significance of - the For Neville email sent to a reporter which detailed a transcript of a voicemail intercept.

He was repeatedly asked to recall and comment on meetings, phonecalls, emails and legal briefings. He was succinct and insistent.

Aware that this was also a chance for him to attempt to repair the damage done to News International and its stable of newspapers he said sorry, he said he was humbled.

Then he was likened to a mafia boss.

The Labour MP Tom Watson, a fierce critic, also referred to Omerta, the vow of silence. It was the climax of an increasingly bitter exchange. James Murdoch called it offensive.

James Murdoch has come under increasing pressure from some shareholders over his future at News Corp. Today was the opportunity to rebut their criticisms and show them he is the man to carry on leading its subsidiary News International.

This was his chance to help to salvage any chance he has of succeeding his father in the top job.

But he did not emerge from this session as a media executive with a strong handle on dealing with serious problems at the coalface.

He rejected the claim that he had been "incompetent" but he said he had spent time reflecting on how well he had done as the man in charge as the scandal emerged. They took "too long" to come to grips with it he admitted.

It has been a "huge focus for the last year" to get to the bottom of this, he said.

It was at times a commanding performance, but, and it is a big but, the focus of much of the session was on illegal or simply bad things that his newspapers had done.

He apologised for the phone hacking. He apologised for the surveillance carried out for the News of the World. It was "appalling" and "shocking" that some people, including a 14-year-old girl, were secretly followed.

He apologised for the Sun's coverage of the Hillsborough disaster. The questioning also strayed into an investigation into computer hacking and claims that emails were illegally intercepted.

James Murdoch and the empire that his father Rupert has built up has been seriously damaged by all of this. The BSkyB buyout was killed off. The News of the World was closed. There are numerous police and judicial investigations underway.

James Murdoch may have come close to clearing his name today on the claim that he knew about the scale of hacking, but the arm of the company he runs has a huge mess on its hands, a mess highlighted in great detail today by MPs. And it is a mess that he is deeply involved in.

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