James Murdoch, News Corp. deputy chief operating officer of News Corp.,… (Kirsty Wigglesworth, Associated…)
Reporting from London and Los Angeles — The British Parliament directed News Corp. Deputy Chief Operating Officer James Murdoch to further explain his knowledge of phone hacking by journalists at the company's now-shut London tabloid News of the World and its other British papers.
In a closed meeting Friday, Britain's parliamentary committee on Culture, Media and Sport decided to call Murdoch — who also oversees the News International unit that includes the company's British newspapers — and other former employees.
Murdoch, who with his father, News Corp. Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch, appeared before the committee July 19, will provide written replies to questions but has not been asked to again appear in person.
At issue are remarks from former News International lawyer Tom Crone and a former News of the World editor, Colin Myler, as well as Jon Chapman, ex-legal affairs director of News International. All three have offered information that contradicts statements Murdoch made to Parliament earlier this month, when he said he was unaware of an email containing information about intercepted voice mail messages.
The scandal is reverberating in the United States: News Corp. has told staffers at its New York Post tabloid to "preserve and maintain" any information related to phone hacking or government payoffs in exchange for scoops. The memo comes in response to an ongoing probe in Britain.
"All New York Post employees have been asked to do this in light of what has gone on in London at News of the World, and not because any recipient has done anything improper or unlawful," the paper's editor, Col Allan, said in a memo to his staff.
The British tabloid is accused of hacking voice mail accounts of celebrities, royalty and victims of crime and terrorism and of bribing police to obtain information. The alleged conduct has outraged much of Britain, triggered multiple investigations and damaged the reputations of Murdoch and his family.
Meanwhile, fresh allegations of phone hacking fueled the controversy.
Sara Payne, the mother of an 8-year-old girl who was abducted and killed in 2000, learned that her name and phone number were on a list of phones hacked by a private investigator employed by the tabloid, Glenn Mulcaire. Payne had been working closely with News of the World to advocate for tougher child protection laws.
"I am, as you can imagine, very distressed and upset by the news that my details have been found on Mulcaire's list," Payne said.
Mulcaire, who was convicted of illegal phone hacking in 2007 along with News of the World reporter Clive Goodman, issued a statement through his attorneys, saying he acted at the direction of the tabloid, not on his own.
"He was effectively employed by News of the World from 2002 to carry out his role as a private investigator," Mulcaire's lawyers said in the statement. "As he accepted when he pleaded guilty in 2007 to charges of phone interception, he admits that his role did include phone hacking. As an employee he acted on the instructions of others."
The news that Parliament wants more answers from James Murdoch comes just a day after the board of British Sky Broadcasting held a meeting and retained him as chairman. News Corp. owns 39% of BSkyB, but its plans to buy the rest were derailed by the News of the World debacle.
Also Friday, Peta Buscombe, chairwoman of independent media watchdog Press Complaints Commission in Britain, announced her resignation after fierce criticism of her handling of the complaints about phone hacking by tabloids in recent years. The commission failed to act against News of the World in 2009 when complaints emerged of phone hacking by reporters at the paper.
Meanwhile, the comedian who threw a foam pie at Rupert Murdoch last week during Murdoch's appearance before the House of Commons subcommittee has been convicted of assault and causing harassment.