A U.K. lawmaker called for News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch to be questioned by police after a secret recording showed him saying that bribery had been routine practice by reporters.
A transcript by Exaro News of a March 6 meeting between Murdoch and about 25 journalists from The Sun newspaper, many of them facing bribery charges, also showed him promising to give "total support" to reporters if they're convicted. Murdoch told the group that News Corp. had stopped cooperating with the police and "hadn't given them anything for months."
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In one section of the transcript, Murdoch tells his staff: "payments for news tips from cops: that's been going on a hundred years, absolutely. You didn't instigate it." He said one of the first things he saw when he bought the News of the World tabloid in 1969 was a safe full of money that he was told was for bribes.
"If these tapes are an accurate account of his staff meeting they show that what Rupert Murdoch has said in private is markedly different to his public testimony to Parliament and Judge Leveson," Tom Watson, a Labour Party lawmaker who has been a leading critic of Murdoch, said in an e-mail. "In particular, he makes the extraordinary claim that he was aware of payments to police."
Watson said he planned to write to police in the U.K. to request they interview Murdoch to establish his knowledge of payments to officers, and to U.S. authorities to request an investigation under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
"Mr. Murdoch never knew of payments made by Sun staff to police before News Corp. disclosed that to U.K. authorities," the New York-based company said in a statement. "Furthermore, he never said he knew of payments. It's absolutely false to suggest otherwise."
"No other company has done as much to identify what went wrong, compensate the victims, and ensure the same mistakes do not happen again," it said. "Rupert Murdoch has shown understandable empathy with the staff and families affected and will assume they are innocent until and unless proven guilty."
The content of the meeting, as well as the fact that it was secretly recorded and then leaked, shows the breakdown in trust between Murdoch and reporters on his flagship British paper, following the arrest of dozens of them on the basis of evidence supplied by News Corp.
The staff sought assurances that their jobs and medical cover would be safe if they're convicted. "I've been told that I must not give guarantees, but I can give you something," Murdoch replied. "I guarantee that you will continue. And I will do everything in my power to give you total support, even if you're convicted and get six months or whatever. I don't know of anybody, or anything, that did anything that wasn't being done across Fleet Street and wasn't the culture. We're being picked on."
When the conversation turned to criminal trials, Murdoch offered his reporters this advice: "I've got -- not absolute faith -- but a lot of hope in juries. I think you'll all make fine witnesses. Your juries are your best hope."