Leading article: Ask Murdoch the right questions


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The Independent Online

When James Murdoch, heir apparent to the News Corp empire, comes before a select committee of MPs today, those charged with questioning him need to be a good deal more rigorous than they were last time he was in front of them.

Within 24 hours of his appearancein July, the News of the World's chief lawyer and one of its editors both contradicted his version of events. Worse still, documents have revealed that an outside lawyer warned of damning evidence that a culture of accessing information illegally seemed rife at the newspaper.

Another even wrote a contemporaneous note suggesting that Mr Murdoch had indeed been told what he claimed to not have been told before the select committee. MPs will need to ask whether it is credible that he would have authorised the payment of £725,000 to one hacking victim without informing himself of the facts of the case. This included advice from a QC who warned of the "overwhelming evidence of the involvement of a number of senior journalists in the illegal inquiries", not just one "rogue reporter", as Mr Murdoch claimed. It's now clear that he was either untruthful in his last evidence or that he displayed a lack of interest in detail bordering on complacency or incompetence before authorising such an astronomical pay-out.

MPs must not be content with his likely admission that "more could have been done". He must be pressed on when he first saw the pivotal "For Neville" email. Did he authorise, or know about the use of, a private detective to covertly follow lawyers representing victims of phone hacking? Were his former colleagues Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton right to resign; if so, why did he not resign on the same grounds?

How can Ms Brooks's £1.7m pay-off and continuing Murdoch-funded office and chauffeur be justified? Was the arrest of a senior Sun journalist last week, which brought another News International paper into the scandal, indicative of a wider culture of illegal payments to police officers? Is he a fit and proper person to continue to chair the BSkyB board?

There is no shortage of questions; but we need MPs to be more penetrating in asking them.