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Rupert Murdoch on phone hacking: ‘That’s a lazy way of reporting’

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
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Rupert Murdoch testifies in London, April 25, 2012. (AP/Pool)

News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch was grilled for more than three hours by the Leveson Inquiry on phone hacking and media ethics on Wednesday in London, testifying that his frequent private meetings with British politicians are just part of "the game" and that the editorial influence he wields over his newspapers is "overestimated."

With his wife, Wendi Deng, looking on, Murdoch said he welcomed the opportunity to testify "because I wanted to put certain myths to bed."

Those myths, he said, include what his role is exactly as a newspaper publisher.

"I never interfered with the News of the World, I'm sorry to say," Murdoch told the committee. "I'm not disowning it or saying it wasn't my responsibility but I was always closer to the Sun."

He continued: "I never gave instruction to the editor of the Times or Sunday Times. Sometimes when I was available on a Saturday I would say what's the news today, out of idle curiosity perhaps."

But Murdoch said that it was his responsibility to step in if one of his paper's was under-performing: "Let's face it, if an editor is sending a newspaper broke it is the responsibility of the proprietor to step in for the sake of the journalists, for the sake of everybody, and particularly his responsibility to his many thousands of shareholders."

The 81-year-old mogul--who appeared before parliament last summer--denounced phone hacking, but not the editorial goal.

"I don't believe in using hacking, in using private detectives or whatever, that's a lazy way of reporters not doing their job," Murdoch said. "But I think it is fair when people have themselves held up as iconic figures or great actors that they be looked at."

From the Guardian's transcript:

"A lot of these people are very big in the lives of ordinary people, big television stars, film stars, and, of course, I must include politicians. If we are getting into the issue of privacy, people with public responsibilities--I would even include press proprietors in that--I don't think they are entitled to the same privacy as the ordinary man in the street. If we are going to have a transparent society let's have everything out there."

Murdoch said he "was jealous" of the rival Daily Telegraph when it bought, and published, personal expense accounts of members of Parliament. "I thought that was a great public service," he said. "I'm disappointed the editor of the Times didn't buy them when they were offered to him first."

In his written testimony, Murdoch said that News Corp. has been "actively" cooperating with the U.S. Dept. of Justice since last July, "turning over evidence of alleged or suspected illegality, and responding to all requests for information."

Murdoch was asked about his meetings with dignitaries, including David Cameron, Tony Blair--even a 1981 lunch with Margaret Thatcher. (Murdoch was asked to confirm if an old quote about Blair was accurate: "If our flirtation is ever consummated, Tony, I suspect we will end up making love like porcupines very, very carefully." He said it was.)

Murdoch struggled to recall a 2008 meeting with Cameron aboard the family yacht: "Coming back to me vaguely, I checked it with my daughter because he was being flown on my son-in-law's plane on his way to Turkey. She says I in fact met him on her boat. It doesn't matter, there were a couple of boats."

Murdoch added:

"Politicians go out of their way to impress people in the press and I don't remember discussing any heavy political things with him at all. There may have been some issues discussed in passing, it was not a long meeting. I don't really remember the meeting. That's part of the democratic process. All politicians on all sides like to have their views known by the editors or publishers of newspapers hoping they will be put across, hoping they will succeed in impressing people, that's the game."

Murdoch's testimony will continue on Thursday. (He had been hoping to finish his testimony Wednesday; according to the Guardian's Dan Sabbagh, Murdoch told advisers in the courtroom, "Let's get him to get this f---ing thing over with today.")

James Murdoch, Rupert's son, testified for a third time in the U.K. phone-hacking investigation on Tuesday, telling the Leveson Inquiry that he did not know the phone hacking at News of the World was widespread while he was in charge of News International.

"I was not told sufficient information to go and turn over a whole bunch of stones that I was told had already been turned over," Murdoch told the special committee. "I don't think that, short of knowing they weren't giving me the full picture, I would've been able to know that at the time."

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