LONDON — British lawmakers were weighing Tuesday whether to recall James Murdoch for further questioning after two former News International executives suggested the scion of media magnate Rupert Murdoch had misled a committee about his knowledge of widespread phone hacking at the company’s News of the World tabloid.
The executives’ comments came on a day that saw the hacking scandal back in the spotlight after a lull of several weeks, with Prime Minister David Cameron also facing lawmakers’ questions.
On Tuesday, however, the scandal mostly dogged the younger Murdoch, who oversees the European arm of his father’s News Corp. media empire.
James Murdoch has staunchly maintained that until relatively recently, the company thought that illegal phone hacking by News of the World employees — who are now known to have targeted thousands of British citizens in their search for scoops — had been limited to one “rogue” reporter who was jailed in 2007.
Testifying before a parliamentary select committee in July alongside his father, James Murdoch insisted that he had never seen a vital piece of evidence to the contrary that surfaced in 2008 — an e-mail suggesting that a top News of the World reporter was among those using information from a hacked phone. The e-mail is viewed as an indication that phone hacking was a common practice, and common knowledge, at News of the World, which ceased publication in July.
In an appearance before the committee Tuesday, Tom Crone, a former legal chief of News of the World’s publisher, and Colin Myler, a former editor of the tabloid, reiterated assertions that they had made weeks ago in a private statement. They said they had informed the younger Murdoch about the e-mail, which they suggested was the central reason why News Corp. had agreed to a $700,000 settlement with a phone-hacking victim.
Crone said he was “certain” the e-mail had been mentioned during a 15-minute meeting in 2008, but both he and Myler were vague on the details of that meeting, saying they could not recall whether they had physically shown the e-mail to James Murdoch. And although Crone said he had told Murdoch of the e-mail, he repeatedly denied any attempt by the company to “cover up” the extent of phone hacking at the tabloid.
In a statement, James Murdoch again denied that he had been made aware of the e-mail. “As I said in my testimony, there was nothing discussed in the meeting that led me to believe that a further investigation was necessary,” he said.
In a separate select committee meeting, Cameron — whom the opposition has criticized for hiring as his communications director a former News of the World editor now facing criminal charges — was asked for his views on the scope of an independent inquiry that is set to hold public hearings on the scandal this month.
The prime minister said that the inquiry should, among other things, probe the close relationship between British politicians and the press. The extent of those links came into sharp focus this week with fresh revelations that former prime minister Tony Blair — who once described the tabloid press as a “feral beast tearing people and reputations to bits” — is the godfather of at least one of Rupert Murdoch’s younger children.
Cameron called for consideration of a new regulatory body that would operate free of government interference to ensure press freedoms.
“I’m sure there are ways to provide tougher independent regulation that is not government-controlled,” he said.
Special correspondent Karla Adam contributed to this report.