UK
05/07/2013 14:14 BST | Updated 05/07/2013 14:22 BST

Rupert Murdoch 'Unlikely' To Face Commons Questions Over Phone Hacking Comments

Rupert Murdoch is likely to escape a recall to to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in spite of recent comments over phone hacking and illegal payments.

A spokeswoman for the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee said it was "unlikely" Mr Murdoch would be recalled following a call from press law campaign group Hacked Off, which urged the committee's chairman to recall the News Corp boss after he was apparently recorded telling journalists he regretted the level of co-operation over phone hacking and illegal payments.

rupert murdoch commons committee

Rupert Murdoch and his son James (Left) giving evidence to the select Committee in July 2011

Hacked Off associate director Evan Harris said the reported comments cast doubt on the reliability of Mr Murdoch's testimony to the committee two years ago and he "may have committed contempt of Parliament".

In a letter to committee chairman John Whittingdale MP, Dr Harris wrote: "There is a strong prima facie case that Mr Murdoch may have committed contempt of Parliament by misleading your committee over his true response to the police investigations into phone hacking and bribery of public officials.

"As far as the victims of phone hacking are concerned, the appropriate course of action is for the committee to recall him at the earliest available opportunity to explain the discrepancies between the expressions of remorse he made to you and the defiant and unrepentant tone of his private remarks earlier this year.

"Your committee has been wise in swiftly recalling any witnesses who may have appeared to mislead it in the past and I trust that this important convention will be maintained on this occasion."

It comes after a secret recording emerged in which Mr Murdoch vented his anger at the continuing police investigation into alleged phone hacking and illegal payments to officials by journalists working for his media empire.

In it he was heard describing the treatment of journalists who had been arrested as a "disgrace" and suggesting that he regretted the extent to which the company had co-operated with the investigation.

The recording, obtained by the Exaro investigative website and broadcast by Channel 4 News, was said to have been made during a meeting with journalists from The Sun at his British newspapers' headquarters in Wapping, east London, in March.

Mr Murdoch is heard railing at the way police behaved.

"It's a disgrace. Here we are, two years later, and the cops are totally incompetent," he said.

"The idea that the cops then started coming after you, kick you out of bed, and your families, at six in the morning, is unbelievable.

"But why are the police behaving in this way? It's the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing.

"And now they're arresting their own, who never even took money.

"They're going to put all newspapers out of business."

Phone-hacking victim Jane Winter said the tape showed Mr Murdoch thinks he is above the law.

She said: "This tape shows Rupert Murdoch in his true colours: unrepentant, above the law, and vengeful. It is clear that he has instructed his lawyers to obstruct the police investigation and that, in his arrogant contempt for the law of the land and for his victims, he is simply waiting for it all to blow over so that he can rebuild his empire.

"He has not been straight with Parliament, with the Leveson Inquiry, or with anyone, and has yet to be properly called to account."

In his letter, Dr Harris says he is writing on behalf of victims of press abuse by News International and quotes Mr Murdoch's comment to the committee that appearing before them was "the most humble day of my life".

"When he came before your committee on 19 July 2011, the chairman of News Corp declared it was 'the most humble day of my life' and insisted that he was not responsible for what he called 'sickening and horrible invasions of privacy' committed by his company," he wrote.

"Mr Murdoch claimed that he had been betrayed by disgraceful unidentified colleagues, telling you that those culpable were 'the people I hired and trusted, and perhaps then people who they hired and trusted'.

"Yet it now emerges, as a result of a leaked tape of a News International staff meeting of which you will be aware, Mr Murdoch has since raged against the police and claimed that the inquiry has been blown out of proportion."

Labour MP Tom Watson has called for police to question Mr Murdoch over the alleged comments.

In the recording, one of the journalists present questioned why so much material had been handed over to the police by News Corp's management and standards committee (MSC), leading to Mr Murdoch to indicate that he believed they had gone too far.

"Because - it was a mistake, I think. But, in that atmosphere, at that time, we said, 'Look, we are an open book, we will show you everything.' And the lawyers just got rich going through millions of emails," he said.

He added: "All I can say is, for the last several months, we have told, the MSC has told, and (name withheld), who's a terrific lawyer, has told the police, has said 'No, no, no - get a court order. Deal with that'."

Mr Murdoch also appeared to suggest that any journalists who were convicted and jailed in connection with the inquiry could get their jobs back.

"I will do everything in my power to give you total support, even if you're convicted and get six months or whatever," he said.

"You're all innocent until proven guilty. What you're asking is: what happens if some of you are proven guilty? What afterwards? I'm not allowed to promise you - I will promise you continued health support - but your jobs. I've got to be careful what comes out - but, frankly, I won't say it, but just trust me."