News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch testified Thursday to the U.K. committee on media ethics that there was indeed a phone-hacking "cover-up" at News International—led by "one or two very strong characters"—and that he had "failed" to uncover it.
"Someone took charge of a cover-up, which we were victim to and I regret," Murdoch told the Leveson Inquiry in London on his second straight day of testimony. "I also have to say that I failed ... and I am very sorry for it."
Murdoch, though, insisted the cover-up was not engineered by the company's top executives. "There was no attempt, by me or several levels below me, to cover it up," Murdoch said. "We set up inquiry after inquiry, we employed legal firm after legal firm. Perhaps we relied too much on the conclusions of the police."
The 81-year-old said he panicked last summer when it was revealed that News of the World had hacked into the voice mail of Milly Dowler, a missing 13-year-old who was later found murdered. Murdoch shut the tabloid down a few days later.
"You could feel the blast coming in the window," Murdoch said of the scandal. "I can say it succinctly. I panicked. And I am sorry I did."
But the media mogul also said he should have closed News of the World "years before" the phone-hacking revelations. "This whole business is a serious blot on my reputation," he said.
The leaks throttled News Corp.'s bid to buy British broadcaster BSkyB. "I don't know whether we can put it down to the Milly Dowler misfortune," Murdoch said, "but the hacking scandal, yes."
He added: "The hacking scandal was not a great national thing until the Milly Dowler disclosure, half of which—look, I'm not making any excuses for it at all—but half of which has been somewhat disowned by the police."
On Wednesday, the Leveson Inquiry grilled Murdoch for more than three hours about his frequent private meetings over the years with British politicians like David Cameron—just part of "the game," Murdoch said—and the editorial influence he wields over his newspapers.
Murdoch denounced phone hacking at News International's papers, 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," he said. "But I think it is fair when people have themselves held up as iconic figures or great actors that they be looked at."
He had been hoping to finish his testimony on Wednesday. According to the Guardian's Dan Sabbagh, Murdoch told advisers in the courtroom, "Let's get him to get this [expletive] 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.
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