July 19th, 2011
06:16 PM GMT
London (CNN) – If we were looking for News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch to give detailed answers to questions about alleged misdeeds at one of his subsidiaries, we did not get them.
"You had a hands-off approach," to the News of the World, committee member Philip Davies said to Rupert Murdoch.
The 80-year-old disagreed, saying he had his hands full "10 to 12 hours a day" overseeing an international company with 53,000 employees, and admitted that News of the World was less than 1% of his business, and that "maybe I lost sight of (it)."
"There was no excuse to break the law" at his newspapers, said Murdoch. "I was brought up by a father ... who was a great journalist. He ... bought a little small paper ... to give me a chance to do good ... to expose the scandals. Of which I am very, very proud of."
But as Conservative member of the committee Louise Mensch said, some might say "It's hard to believe that two executives, not considered passive, were not aware ..." that widespread hacking was going on.
There is clearly a geographical and maybe a generational gap between the two Murdochs. The elder of the two appeared to be much more "big picture" when it came to his British newspapers than might have been expected. James said in large companies management is delegated to the groups.
Rupert Murdoch spent much more time thinking before answering and gave much shorter answers. At points you wondered if he had an answer. But he did, even if it was that he did not know.
James Murdoch, 38, who as CEO of News Corp. Asia and Europe since 2008 oversees the British papers at the center of the phone-hacking scandal, said many times he could not answer questions about events that happened before he took over.
But he did give detailed answers on many more occasions than his father. He appeared confident, other than at times when he did not want answers to prejudice former employees now under arrest. He said it was "with deep regret" that the company made too strong of statements in the past that phone hacking was limited to a very few people.
Rupert Murdoch said he wished they had dealt with all this much sooner. "Phone hacking was wrong. Paying police was wrong," he said.
What did we learn about the empire?
Neither man had a detailed hand on the tiller of the British newspapers. That will surprise many, including some shareholders.
Still, James appeared very much a modern CEO. He's polished before cameras, appeared keen to be helpful, and even said he was shocked to learn that News International, the company he now oversees, has continued to pay legal fees for a private investigator who pled guilty to phone hacking.
We also learned that the company has no plans, at the moment, to launch a new Sunday tabloid in Britain. Both Murdochs said need to tackle the current situation was too more important to think about launching a new title.
Rupert Murdoch also claimed he only called the editor of his Sunday papers "on a Saturday night" or a couple of times a month, and would not interfere in what would appear in the paper.
What was most interesting to me was the committee members started off wanting (expecting?) to hear more from Rupert, they first asked James to not break in, but slowly and surely James answered the majority of the questions. He said he had no evidence of anyone in senior management intentionally keeping information from him.
When it comes to the "family business" the elder Murdoch was asked if he now regrets putting James in charge of BSkyB when he did. Rupert Murdoch said when he promoted his son to take much wider responsibilities, many big shareholders complained that he was taken away from BSkyB because he "did such a great job."
The bottom line: the two Murdochs do not feel ultimately responsible for what happened, but say they are very sorry it did happen.
As for any changes at the top, Rupert Murdoch said "I would love to have my sons and daughter follow on, if they are interested." I take that to mean he plans on keeping James Murdoch in his spot and his other children close by.
Will the board of News Corp. agree after this testimony?
As Rupert Murdoch said at the start: "This is the most humble day of my life."
But after the attempted attack on him by a member of the public in the committee room, an unshaken but now jacketless Rupert Murdoch was asked if he thought of resigning. He said, "No ... I'm the best person to clear this up."
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