In Depth

Stonewall Murdoch: can he remain BSkyB chairman?

James Murdoch gets through another grilling in Parliament - but his competence is in question

james-murdoch.jpg

SO, James Murdoch says he knew nothing about phone hacking at the News of the World, because he was not told. That may be enough to get him through the ham-fisted questioning by MPs on the Commons culture committee, but will it be enough to persuade the BSkyB shareholders to give him a vote of confidence next week?

Murdoch appeared incredibly cool throughout today's (light) grilling, so much so that when a frustrated Tom Watson, inquisitor in chief, suddenly accused him of being a Mafia boss, he barely missed a beat.

"You must be the first Mafia boss in history who didn't know he was running a criminal enterprise," said Watson, close to blowing his top.

"Mr Watson, please... that is inappropriate," responded Murdoch. He could have been stroking a white cat on his lap.

As he repeated his mantra that he was never advised about a culture of phone-hacking at the News of the World, Murdoch scape-goated the paper's one-time editor Colin Myler and former legal officer Tom Crone. Both men, he said, had clearly misled the committee when they claimed at a recent hearing that they had told him that hacking was much wider than previously revealed.

Myler and Crone might request a right of reply to the accusation they misled the committee, but committee chairman John Whittingdale said it was "unlikely" they will be called again. The committee now wants to proceed quickly to a report.

Perhaps more telling than Watson's Mafia jibe was a series of questions from Philip Davies, a Tory member of the committee, about the £500,000 - £700,000 (no one is sure of the figure) payment to Gordon Taylor which Murdoch authorised as a payoff to prevent a lawsuit, without asking to see the legal opinion behind it.

Davies explained how he used to work for Asda – part of the Walmart corporation, a much bigger enterprise than News Corp – and that the idea of someone authorising a payment of more than half a million pounds without inquiring into the reasons was not credible.

"It all seems so cavalier to me," said Davies. "You agree to settle cases with no real cap but a ballpark figure. You agree that a company should have a legal opinion, but you don't even ask to see the opinion when it is written."

The Mole suspects that it is this aspect of Murdoch's behaviour that will do for him – not in Westminster, perhaps, but when BSkyB shareholders vote next week on whether he should remain as chairman.

This is a man who has overseen the closure of a national newspaper - the News of the World - because of lax corporate governance and now faces another 5,000 victims of phone hacking looking for retribution.

James Murdoch and his family own 40 per cent of the shares, so he may still survive. But it will be hugely damaging to their corporation if he stays.

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