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'Wilful blindness? We've heard of it,' says Murdoch

Table-banging biz tyrant and son grilled by MPs

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A "humbled" Rupert Murdoch appeared before a committee of MPs this afternoon as a witness on the phone-hacking scandal that has engulfed the News Corp boss' media empire.

The committee's chair, John Whittingdale, denied James Murdoch the opportunity to read from a written statement; the younger Murdoch is the deputy COO at his father's firm.

Questioning then quickly turned to 80-year-old Murdoch, who was heavily grilled by Labour MP Tom Watson.

Murdoch's response was often punctuated with silence. He said: "This is the most humble day of my life."

News Corp's sister company News International published the now-defunct News of the World tabloid – which was shuttered earlier this month after it came to light that phone-hacking was alleged to have been widespread at the newspaper.

Watson asked Murdoch if it was true that his organisation had a zero tolerance to wrongdoing. The media tycoon answered "Yes".

Murdoch claimed not to know who had lied to him and acknowledged that he had been misled over phone-hacking at News International.

Murdoch told Watson he didn't know anything about former NI CEO and erstwhile NotW editor Rebekah Brooks' confirmation to the media committee in 2003 that the newspaper had made payments to police.

He said he only learned of it later, and admitted it wasn't investigated at the time.

"I didn't know of it," he said, before adding, while repeatedly banging on the desk, that the now-dead tabloid accounted for just 1 per cent of his company.

During the original police investigation, which led to the successful prosecution of NotW royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire in 2007, Murdoch told Watson that Les Hinton informed him of the matter.

The MP, after grilling Murdoch over phone-hacking compensation payments made to individuals, asked if the crime alleged to have been committed at News International was "endemic".

"Endemic is a very wide-ranging word; I also have be extremely careful not to prejudice the current case," replied Murdoch.

"I was absolutely shocked, appalled and ashamed when I heard about the Milly Dowler case," he added.

Watson then pointed to an earlier parliamentary meeting with NI execs, in which the MPs at the time concluded that there was a "collective amnesia" among those company bosses.

"You're not saying amnesia, you're really saying lies," retorted Murdoch.

Watson then asked Murdoch if the News Corp boss knew that News International's original line was that only "one rogue reporter" had been responsible for the phone-hacking allegations at the firm as of January 2011.

"I forget the date," responded the media mogul.

Watson said it was "revealing in itself what he [Murdoch] doesn't know," about the corporate governance of his own company.

Later in the grilling, James Murdoch was asked if he was aware of the term "wilful blindness".

He said he wasn't, his father then interjected by saying he had heard of the phrase before adding: "We have never been guilty of that." ®

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