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Murdochs to give evidence at phone-hacking hearing

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Rupert Murdoch will attend UK hearing
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • News Corp. to launch its own investigation
  • The FBI will investigate News Corp., U.S. law enforcement source says
  • London's top police officer says he acted appropriately in dining with senior media figures

London (CNN) -- Media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his son James will attend a hearing over the phone-hacking scandal before British lawmakers next Tuesday, their company, News International, told CNN Thursday.

The House of Commons had issued the pair a summons to appear after the Murdochs initially told the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee they could not attend the July 19 hearing.

News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch wrote to the committee earlier that he was "not available to attend," although he said he was "fully prepared to give evidence to the forthcoming judge-led public inquiry."

That investigation was launched Wednesday by Prime Minister David Cameron in response to allegations that journalists working for Murdoch's media empire illegally eavesdropped on phone messages of thousands of people and bribed police.

James Murdoch, who heads the News International newspaper group, a News Corp. subsidiary, had said he could not appear before lawmakers before August 10 or 11. He holds dual U.S./British citizenship; his father is a U.S. citizen.

Former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, who is now chief executive of News International, had already agreed to testify before the committee on July 19.

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The Culture, Media and Sport Committee issued a statement saying it wanted all three to appear "to account for the behaviour of News International and for previous statements made to the committee in Parliament, now acknowledged to be false."

Some of the most serious hacking claims relate to the period when Brooks was editor of News of the World, one of News International's papers.

In a letter to the select committee, Brooks said she was available to appear "and welcome the opportunity to do so." However, she said she would not feel able to respond to questions that might prejudice the police investigation into the allegations.

In an interview published Thursday by the Wall Street Journal, which is owned by News Corp., the elder Murdoch said the company would establish its own independent committee "to investigate every charge of improper conduct."

Murdoch said the committee, to be led by a "distinguished non-employee," also will draw up a "protocol for behavior" for the company's new reporters.

He dismissed as "pure rubbish" reports that said the company was considering spinning off or selling its newspaper assets.

And he offered support for his son James, who is News Corp.'s deputy chief operating officer. "I think he acted as fast as he could, the moment he could," Murdoch said.

The octogenarian predicted the company would recover. "We have a reputation of great works," he said. But, he added, the spate of negative press has left him "annoyed" and tired. "I'll get over it," he said.

The FBI, meanwhile, has launched an investigation into News Corp. amid an allegation that employees or associates may have tried to hack into phone conversations and voicemail of September 11 survivors, victims and their families, a federal law enforcement source told CNN.

In London, police announced they arrested a 60-year-old man Thursday morning in connection with the phone-hacking probe, the seventh person arrested in the investigation.

The suspect has not been named by police, but the Press Association news agency reports that he is Neil Wallis, a former executive editor of the News of the World.

Wallis also served on the Press Complaints Commission, the British newspaper industry's self-regulating body, which has been broadly criticized in recent days for failing to act against press misconduct.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman told CNN Thursday that a media consultancy company owned by Wallis, Chamy Media, had been appointed to provide communications advice to the Metropolitan Police Service from 2009 to 2010.

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Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May wrote Thursday evening to London's top police officer, Sir Paul Stephenson, asking about his links to Wallis, a Home Office spokesman told CNN. The spokesman would not divulge his name, in line with Home Office policy.

The commissioner appeared earlier before the Metropolitan Police Authority Thursday to answer questions about Scotland Yard's investigation into allegations of phone hacking and police bribery by journalists working for News International.

Asked if he regretted his decision in 2006 to have dinner with Wallis, then deputy editor of the News of the World, Stephenson said he had acted appropriately. "I am very satisfied with my own integrity," he told the independent regulators' meeting.

But he acknowledged that public perceptions of such meetings between senior police and media figures could be different. At the time of the dinner, police were investigating earlier complaints of misconduct by the News of the World.

The Metropolitan Police Authority meeting followed the announcement of an independent probe into the press, including journalists' relations with police.

A relative of a Brazilian man shot dead by London police weeks after the July 2005 terrorist attacks in London is the latest to say his phone number was on a list belonging to a private investigator at the center of the phone-hacking investigation.

The family of Jean Charles de Menezes, whom officers shot dead after mistaking him for a suicide bomber, called for the prime minister to extend the inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal to look at whether police leaked to the press information on his case.

Cameron launched the wide-ranging investigation into the British press on Wednesday, shortly before News Corp. withdrew its bid to take over British satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

The moves came in the wake of public and political fury at allegations that journalists working for Murdoch illegally eavesdropped on phone messages of thousands of people and bribed police.

"It has become clear that it is too difficult to progress in this climate," News Corp. Deputy Chairman Chase Carey said in announcing the company would end its attempt to increase its 39.1% share in BSkyB.

Cameron blasted Murdoch's company as he launched the high-powered inquiry, saying News Corp. executives need to focus not on taking over BSkyB, "but on clearing up the mess and getting their house in order."

He welcomed the withdrawal of the bid, which came hours before lawmakers voted across party lines to pass a symbolic measure urging Murdoch to give up his effort to take full ownership of the broadcaster, in which he already owns a controlling stake.

Opposition leader Ed Miliband of the Labour party -- who pushed the vote against the takeover -- welcomed the News Corp. decision and said it would not have happened had lawmakers not pressured Murdoch.

"The will of politicians was clear, the will of the public was clear, and now Britain's most powerful media owner has had to bend to that will," said Miliband, speaking as politicians rowdily debated the measure in the House of Commons.

In announcing the public inquiry into press practices and ethics, Cameron said anyone "found guilty of wrongdoing -- or of allowing it -- must not only be brought to justice, they must also have no future role in the running of a media company in our country."

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The judge leading the inquiry will be able to summon witnesses, including newspaper owners, and compel them to testify in public, under oath, Cameron announced.

The investigation will look at whether News International, or other newspaper groups broke the law, their relations with the police and politicians and press ethics and practices.

The aim is to "bring this ugly chapter to a close and ensure that nothing like it ever happens again," the prime minister said.

The inquiries come in the wake of the accusation that victims of phone hacking included a missing 13-year-old girl, Milly Dowler, who was later found to have been murdered.

Miliband hammered Cameron for having hired a former top News International journalist to be his communications director after the editor left his newspaper, News of the World, in the wake of one of its journalists going to prison over phone hacking.

The editor, Andy Coulson, insisted he knew nothing about the crime but resigned from News of the World because it happened on his watch. Coulson resigned as Cameron's spokesman this year when the scandal blew up afresh.

Journalists are accused of attempting to bribe police officers for information -- including personal contact details for members of the royal family -- in addition to the violation of privacy allegations.

The News of the World, which was Britain's best-selling newspaper, folded Sunday over other allegations of illegal breach of privacy at the order of James Murdoch.

Murdoch flew Sunday to London, hours after the final edition of News of the World hit the stands. The publication was the first British national paper Murdoch bought, in 1969, as he began to propel himself from Australian newspaper proprietor to international media magnate.

News International owns the Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times in Britain.

Murdoch's News Corp. also encompasses Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and Harper Collins publishers.

CNN's Jonathan Wald, Dan Rivers, Laura Perez Maestro, Richard Allen Greene, Laura Smith-Spark and Jim Boulden contributed to this report.

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