"We don't have that sort of power," Murdoch tells inquiry

Wed Apr 25, 2012 2:16pm EDT
 
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By Estelle Shirbon and Georgina Prodhan

LONDON (Reuters) - Rupert Murdoch is used to slipping into Downing Street by the back door for discreet meetings with prime ministers, but there was no such privacy on Wednesday when he faced a grilling about his political influence in the full glare of the world's media.

It was one of the most extraordinary days in a career spanning six decades that has seen the owner of a provincial Australian newspaper morph into a global media magnate credited with the power to make or break governments.

Questioned under oath at a judicial inquiry prompted by revelations of endemic phone-hacking at his News of the World tabloid, which he shut down last July, Murdoch gave a confident performance in which he amiably played down the power he holds.

If his enemies had hoped to see him squirm under the forensic questioning of the inquiry's top prosecutor, especially after a memorably unimpressive performance before British lawmakers last July with his son James, they were disappointed. Last time, a protester threw a foam "pie" at the elder Murdoch and was hit by his formidable wife, Wendi Deng.

Under questioning last July, Murdoch had looked old and tired, and said it was the humblest day of his life, as the extent of public outrage at the way the News of the World had treated ordinary people as well as celebrities sank in.

But at Wednesday's hearing at London's Royal Courts of Justice, one of the few times Murdoch has been hauled into any court, he appeared in command of the proceedings and quickly won over lawyers, journalists and the public alike. He smiled, was sometimes stern and left onlookers wondering how good, or bad, his memory of recent British political events really was.

Lest anybody underestimate him in his ninth decade, Murdoch jogged back to his seat after one of the breaks in proceedings, and showed he was as sharp as ever when it came to the quick put-down.

Had he thought British Prime Minister David Cameron was "lightweight" when he first met him? "No, not then."   Continued...

 
A still image from broadcast footage shows News Corporation Chief Executive and Chairman, Rupert Murdoch, speaking at the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the media, at the High Court in London April 25, 2012. REUTERS/POOL via Reuters TV