Murdoch targets unions & BBC

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News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch yesterday made it clear that he had taken a decision to smash the print unions when he provoked the 1986/87 strike.

He also made clear his antagonism to the BBC and in particular its website.

Giving evidence for a second day at the Leveson inquiry, Murdoch was asked questions about the internet.

He said: ‘The internet has cost newspapers a lot of sales.’

He added: ‘Newspapers are a huge benefit to society.

‘Industry was on its knees because of the craft unions keeping it behind for twenty years, and so I took a painful decision.’

He predicted: ‘In twenty years we’ll (newspapers) have only small circulations, we’ll be purely electronic.’

He later said: ‘In this country, you have the BBC.

‘It has gone online with a news service. Twelve million watch it every day and feel they’ve got enough news.

‘That must be affecting newspaper circulation.’

However, he added: ‘New technology advertising opportunities are increasing.

‘We put The Times on iPad and charge for it, maybe there’s another opportunity there.’

Counsel for the NUJ, Hendy, put it to him that a ‘culture of bullying’ had existed which led to unethical practices at the News of the World, and quoted a complaint made by a journalist.

Murdoch denied this, saying ‘she could have resigned’.

He also denied he influenced former Labour premier Blair to get a clause inserted in the Industrial Relations Act so a non-union association can prevent a trade union being recognised by an employer.

Earlier he had denied he was behind any cover-up over phone hacking at the News of the World.

Murdoch said senior executives were ‘misinformed’ about phone hacking, and had been ‘shielded’ from what was going on at the paper.

He said: ‘I do blame one or two people for that, who perhaps I shouldn’t name because, for all I know, they may be arrested yet.

‘There is no question in my mind that, maybe even the editor, but certainly beyond that, someone took charge of a cover-up which we were victim to, and I regret.’

Asked by inquiry counsel Robert Jay QC what he thought was the source of the ‘cover-up’, Murdoch replied: ‘I think from within the News of the World.

‘There were one or two very strong characters there who I think had been there many, many years and were friends of the journalists.

‘The person I am thinking of was a friend of the journalists, drinking pal, and was a clever lawyer and forbade them. . . or there have been statements reporting that this person forbade people to go and report to Mrs (Rebekah) Brooks or James (Murdoch).

‘That is not to excuse it on our behalf at all, I take it extremely seriously that that situation had arisen.’

When Jay said some people would say he was more interested in pursuing a cover-up rather than exposing it, Murdoch replied angrily ‘Some people like you might!’ before hastily retracting his remark.

Asked why he closed the NoW rather than tough it out, Murdoch replied: ‘When the Milly Dowler situation was first given huge publicity every paper took the chance to make it a national scandal.

‘You could feel the blast coming in the window. I panicked. But I’m glad I did.’

He added: ‘I’m sorry I didn’t close it years before. But what held us back was the NoW readers, only a quarter read the Sun.’

He had claimed ‘it was a decision taken by my son and Ms Brooks’.

It was put to him that evidence suggested that News International managed the legal risk by covering it up.

Murdoch insisted: ‘No. There was no attempt, by me or several levels below me, to cover it up. We set up inquiry after inquiry, we employed legal firm after legal firm, perhaps we relied too much on the conclusions of the police.’

But he admitted it was ‘disrespectful to parliament’ for News International to rely on the ‘rogue reporter’ defence for so long.

He admitted: ‘I failed’ and added: ‘I’m guilty of not paying enough attention to the News of the World.

‘I apologise to a lot of people, to the 1,000 people who lost their jobs.’

He said that he had spent ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’ on the News International internal investigation but the ‘police have the Mulcaire diary under lock and key’.

Earlier he expressed ‘surprise’ at the amount paid out to the PFA’s Gordon Taylor, saying it was a quick decision taken by his son James.

The News Corp boss stonewalled opening questions about any meetings or conversations with Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt over the BskyB bid which the phone-hacking scandal scuppered.