What time does Murdoch grilling start today?
The First Post guide to what’s in store as tycoon and son head for Parliament
It is one of the most eagerly anticipated appearances before a Commons select committee ever. Rupert and James Murdoch, accompanied by former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, have been called to Parliament to be questioned about illegal phone hacking and an apparent cover-up at the now defunct News of the World.
Rupert Murdoch has never been called before a select committee in his four decades as a newspaper proprietor in Britain. Now, some say, his entire worldwide media empire is on the verge of implosion because of the hacking revelations.
• What time will the Murdochs appear?
Rupert and James Murdoch are to begin giving evidence before the Commons culture committee at 2.30pm. It will be covered by the BBC, where Andrew Neil – himself a former Murdoch employee as one-time editor of the Sunday Times – will open proceedings on his Daily Politics show. Sky TV have promised to cover the session without advertising interruptions.
The committee has up to an hour to question the Murdochs. Rebekah Brooks will appear separately at 3.30pm.
• Who will be asking the questions?
Key players on the Commons culture select committee are its Tory chairman John Whittingdale and Labour member Tom Watson, who has made much of the running in the campaign to bring the Murdochs to account ever since the Guardian exposed the hacking of Milly Dowler's voicemail on July 4.
Look out too for Louise Mensch – better known as Louise Bagshawe until her recent marriage - the media-savvy Tory MP for Corby who writes chic-lit novels in her spare time.
Then there's Paul Farrelly, the Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyne, who last year was in the news for an altercation with a man at a Commons drinking club.
Other members who could make a name for themselves today if they can put the Murdochs or Brooks on the spot are Dr Therese Coffey (Con), Damian Collins (Con), Philip Davies (Con), Alan Keen (Lab Co-operative), Adrian Sanders (Lib Dem) and Jim Sheridan (Lab).
Labour MP Chris Bryant, who famously asked Rebekah Brooks in her 2003 appearance before the committee whether the News of the World ever paid police officers for information – she answered Yes - is no longer a member of the committee.
• What will be the key questions?
The press is not privy to the questions in advance. But these are some of the questions that key players in the drama want answered:
Why did Rupert Murdoch say his 'priority' was Rebekah Brooks soon after he landed in London nine days ago?
Why did James Murdoch pay such a huge amount - £700,000 – to Godon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, when he complained of phone hacking. Was it hush money, designed to stop the issue ever coming to court?
Which of the Murdochs is going to take responsibility for what went on at the News of the World? Rebekah Brooks's resignation has been accepted – but what about James Murdoch’s?
• Will they get any satisfactory answers?
This is the $64,000 question. As The First Post's Westminster insider the Mole reports today, there is a fear that they will stonewall the committee – especially Rebekah Brooks, who is currently on bail and will be under strict advice from her lawyers not to prejudice her own case should she be charged in relation to the phone hacking and/or illegal payments to police officers.
As the Mole writes, "Their behaviour this afternoon ... could be reminiscent of US hearings where the accused plead the Fifth Amendment, which entitles American citizens to avoid incriminating themselves."
• What's at stake for the Murdochs?
Rebekah Brooks has already lost her job - now James and Rupert Murdoch's positions could be at risk if today goes badly. There is already pressure to replace James as chairman of BSkyB and replace him with a non-Murdoch family member. Rupert, according to a Bloomberg report, could be under pressure to step down as CEO of News Corp, to be replaced by his able number two, Chase Carey.
The prospect of Rupert going was enough to give News Corp shares a huge boost. He would remain chairman - but it would be the end of an era. ·
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