'Murdoch to fly to London to tackle phone-hack crisis'

80-year-old News Corp chief executive reportedly set to deal with aftermath of shutting down 'News of the World' paper.

By REUTERS
July 9, 2011 09:40
2 minute read.
Rupert Murdoch speaks briefly to the media

Rupert Murdoch with press 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Anthony Bolante)

 
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LONDON - Rupert Murdoch was expected to fly to London on Saturday to deal with the escalating phone-hacking crisis engulfing his British newspapers business, according to two people familiar with his plans.

The arrival of the 80-year-old News Corp chief executive follows the shock announcement on Thursday that he is shutting down the News of the World, the 168-year-old best-selling Sunday tabloid newspaper at the centre of the scandal. News Corp declined to comment on his agenda.

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British police on Friday arrested Andy Coulson, the former spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron, who had resigned as News of the World editor in 2007 after one of his reporters and a private investigator were convicted of hacking into the phones of aides to the royal family. Coulson has said he knew nothing about the phone hacking.

After years of allegations about hacking the voicemail of celebrities and politicians in search of stories, the scandal reached a tipping point earlier this week when it was alleged that in 2002 the paper had listened to the voicemail of Milly Dowler, a missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered, and even deleted some of her messages to make way for more.

That claim, and allegations that a growing list of victims included Britain's war dead and the families of those killed in the 2005 London transport bombings, outraged readers and caused many brands to pull advertising from the title.

Murdoch, who began his British media arm in the 1960s, will be keen to save News Corp's bid to buy the 61 percent of broadcaster BSkyB , which it does not already own.



Analysts and investors said the deal could be jeopardized if British regulators impose tougher rules in response to new concerns around News Corp's dominance in British media.

Murdoch, who had spent most of the week at a conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, has kept a low-profile since the scandal erupted. On Thursday, he refused to answer journalists' questions on the matter referring them to a Wednesday statement in support of News International chief Rebekah Brooks.

Coulson's arrest by police on suspicion of conspiring in the illegal practice forced the British prime minister to defend his judgment while promising new controls on the British press.

In a sign of how the scandal could escalate further, The Guardian newspaper reported on its website that police were investigating evidence an executive at News International may have deleted millions of emails from an internal archive in an apparent attempt to obstruct investigations.

A spokeswoman for News International, Murdoch's British media arm, said the allegation was "rubbish". She said: "We are cooperating actively with police and have not destroyed evidence."

Cameron said he took "full responsibility" for his decision to appoint Coulson, who quit the prime minister's team in January when police reopened inquiries.

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