Rupert Murdoch belittled a British police inquiry into bribes allegedly paid by his journalists in a secret recording made by his staff, in sharp contrast to the profuse public apologies he made to defuse anger at news gathering practices.
Murdoch told staff at his Sun tabloid in a private meeting in March that he had been wrong to help the police investigation into tactics he said reporters had used for decades, and promised unspecified support to reporters snared by the inquiry.
A News Corp spokeswoman defended Murdoch and the firm, but did not question the accuracy of the recording, which was made by a member of staff at the meeting in London and obtained by the Exaro investigation Web site.
Murdoch, the head of News Corp and 21st Century Fox , had described himself as humbled and appalled by the revelations of illegality and phone hacking that forced the closure of his prized News of the World tabloid two years ago.
However, in the private meeting with staff the media mogul railed against police and said he had cooperated too closely with them when an internal committee he set up supplied thousands of internal e-mails at the height of the scandal.
“I will do everything in my power to give you total support, even if you’re convicted and get six months or whatever,” he told a room full of Sun journalists.
“We’re talking about payments for news tips from cops: That’s been going on a hundred years,” he said, adding that he remembered being told about the need for cash for “powerful friends” when he bought the News of the World in 1969.
The recording was made during a meeting designed to rebuild relations between the two sides following the revelations of July 2011. It was also aired by Britain’s Channel 4 TV station.
Murdoch, the world’s most powerful media tycoon, was forced to close his mass-selling News of the World Sunday paper following the admission that his staff had hacked into the phones of hundreds of people to generate scoops, including one owned by a murdered teenager.
The reporters have denied the allegations. The Australian-born magnate, who had for years been courted by British politicians from all sides, was forced to appear before parliament to apologize for the behavior of his staff.
A News Corp spokeswoman, responding to the recording, said: “No other company has done as much to identify what went wrong, compensate the victims, and ensure the same mistakes do not happen again,” the spokeswoman said.
“Murdoch never knew of payments made by Sun staff to police before News Corporation disclosed that to UK authorities. Furthermore, he never said he knew of payments. It’s absolutely false to suggest otherwise,” she said.
“Why are the police behaving in this way?” Murdoch said in the recording. “It’s the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing.”
“What you’re asking is: What happens if some of you are proven guilty? What afterwards? I’m not allowed to promise you ... I’ve got to be careful what comes out — but frankly, I won’t say it, but just trust me,” he said.
When one journalist in the room said “it would be nice to hit back,” Murdoch replied: “We will, we will.”
Murdoch said he made the wrong decision when he set up an internal committee to investigate staff and hand over information to the police, and spoke with horror at the way his former protege Rebekah Brooks was detained by officers during an early morning house raid.
News Corp had previously made much of its cooperation with the police, which sparked anger from staff who felt they had been handed over to the authorities and deserted in a bid to protect the reputation of the wider company.