24 Apr 2012

Will Murdochs’ evidence embarrass politicians?

Home Affairs Correspondent

As Rupert and James Murdoch prepare to give evidence to the Leveson inquiry, Channel 4 News Home Affairs Correspondent Andy Davies says prime ministers past and present may face “awkward moments”.

James and Rupert Murdoch (Reuters)

Last year before a parliamentary select committee they sat side by side. This week Rupert and James Murdoch will appear before the Leveson inquiry in separate hearings.

This judicial arena may lack the theatre of the culture select committee (who can forget MP Tom Watson likening James Murdoch to a “mafia boss”?), but it will surely inject yet more drama and intrigue into this still unfolding story.

James Murdoch, who has relinquished much of his control of News Group’s British interests, may feel he has less to lose now, but the continued focus on his former oversight of News International during the early days of the phone-hacking scandal could yet prove another deeply uncomfortable experience for him.

The inquiry’s chief inquisitor, Robert Jay QC, is hardly belligerent, but when it comes to the complexities of subplots such as the “For Neville” email saga, already so personally damaging to James Murdoch, Mr Jay’s grasp of the brief is assured and his questioning will be forensic.

Political questioning

The inquiry is still in module two – examining the relationships between the press and the police – but when Murdoch senior is sworn in, it will be the political line of questioning which no doubt will generate the most interest.

Murdoch senior’s influence on British political life has been the subject of intense commentary for decades. He bought his first title here in 1969 and it looks like politicians have been beating a path to his door ever since. So for Messrs Blair, Brown and Cameron – supposedly due themselves to appear before Leveson in the coming weeks – there may be some awkward moments as the inquiry delves into the inner workings of the media mogul’s famed political embraces.

Just how easily seduced have some in the political class been by the prospect of a Murdoch endorsement? Murdoch has lost one title already during the course of this phone-hacking scandal and he still has numerous journalists under arrest. If he feels politicians are in any way part of the “problem”, he will no doubt let Lord Justice Leveson know about it. And he has several hours in the witness box to do so. It will be nothing short of compelling.