The move is yet another blow to the media empire, with Murdoch’s position at the top seriously weakened if the probe finds evidence of wrongdoing. Two US senators have already called for an investigation, mirroring intense political pressure in the UK.
Murdoch risked further wrath last night by defending his company’s handling of the scandal, claiming in an interview it had dealt with the crisis “extremely well”. He also dismissed as “pure rubbish” reports that News Corp was looking to hive off its newspaper publishing arm.
But the tycoon did cave to demands that he appear before the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee, setting the stage for a gruelling battle in the public arena. Murdoch, his son James and News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks will be grilled by MPs in the hearing next week. The Murdochs had initially declined to attend but reversed the decision after attracting fierce criticism. They will face tough questions from MPs including Tory John Whittingdale and outspoken Labour MP Tom Watson on their knowledge of the phone hacking scandal and whether they were aware of alleged payments to serving police officers.
Meanwhile, News Corp’s second-biggest shareholder, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, last night joined calls for Brooks to step down.
And earlier, police admitted Neil Wallis, the News International executive arrested yesterday, had been employed by Met assistant commissioner John Yates at the time when Yates decided not to reopen the hacking inquiry.