RUPERT MURDOCH insists he was a victim of the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World and that he panicked into closing down the top-selling Sunday tabloid.
In a candid and at times tetchy performance on his second day of being grilled at the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics, the 81-year-old media mogul said he had “failed” in his duties and it was a “blot” on his reputation.
He reiterated his belief that senior management at News Corporation had been kept in the dark over the widespread nature of illegal activity within the now-defunct newspaper.
“I think the senior executives were all misinformed and shielded from anything that was going on there,” he said.
“I do blame one or two people for that who perhaps I shouldn’t name, for all I know they may be arrested.
“There is no question in my mind, maybe even the editor, but certainly beyond, that someone took charge of a cover-up which we were victim to and I regret.”
Revelations last year that News of the World journalists intercepted and deleted the voice messages of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002 triggered a savage backlash in Britain.
That the deleted messages provided Milly’s parents with false hope their murdered daughter was still alive only heightened the ill-feeling towards he newspaper and News Corp.
Police have subsequently stated they believe the voicemail messages were deleted automatically.
“When Milly Dowler was first given huge publicity I think newspapers took the chance to make this a huge national scandal, it made people all over the country aware of this,” Mr Murdoch said.
“You could feel the blast coming in the window.
“I’ll say it succinctly: I panicked, but I’m glad I did.
“And I’m sorry I didn’t close it years before and put a Sun on Sunday in.
“I tell you what held us back: News of the World readers. Only half of them read the Sun. Only a quarter, regular.”
Mr Murdoch said he reacted to the phone-hacking scandal by spending hundred of millions of dollars in internal investigations in an effort to purge his media interests of any potential illegal activities.
He said 300 million emails had been examined and the probe had led to arrests.
Following the cordial atmosphere between counsel Robert Jay QC and Mr Murdoch on the opening day, Mr Jay quickly took a much more aggressive line of questioning on Thursday.
The inquisition riled the News Corp supremo at times and he forced himself to retract one of his retorts in an intriguing battle of wills at the Royal Courts of Justice.
At the beginning of proceedings on Thursday, Mr Murdoch said he stood by his comments that Prime Minister Gordon Brown declared “war” on News Corp for The Sun switching allegiances in 2009 to the Conservative Party.
Mr Brown swiftly denied the accusations but Mr Murdoch refused to back down.
“I said that very carefully yesterday, under oath, and I stand by every word of it,” he said.
He said the fall-out from the phone-hacking scandal had forced News Corp to last year abandon its proposed BSkyB takeover bid.
Labour Leader Ed Miliband continued to pile pressure on cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt to resign over his office secretly briefing News Corp during the bid process.
Adam Smith, one of Culture Minister Mr Hunt’s senior advisers, resigned from his post this week following 163 pages of emails of from News Corp executive Fred Michel being handed to the inquiry.
The information from Mr Michel suggested News Corp’s bid was on track to proceed under Mr Hunt’s guidance.
“I don’t want to say anything against Mr Michel but I think there could have been a bit of exaggeration there,” Mr Murdoch said. – AAP