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Kai Ryssdal: There’s a big news story out of the U.K today that would ordinarily be splashed all over the front pages of the dailies owned by Britain’s biggest newspaper owner. Unfortunately for Rupert Murdoch, though, the story is about one of his papers. Murdoch’s “News of the World” has been caught up in a whirl of celebrity, scandal, and wiretapping. And then paying up to cover up. Marketplace’s Stephen Beard is on the line from London. Hello Stephen.
STEPHEN BEARD: Hello Kai.
Ryssdal: What are the allegations against Mr. Murdoch, and from whence do they come?
BEARD: They come from a rival newspaper, “The Guardian.” The starting point for all this was an actual court case in 2007, when two people employed by the Murdoch paper, “The News of the World” were jailed for phone tapping. Now at the time, the line from the Murdoch empire was this is an isolated event, it’s a one off, a rogue reporter on the rampage. Now, however, “The Guardian” claims this practice was endemic. “The News of the World” as a matter of routine were hiring private detectives to hack into the cell phones of public figures in search of juicy material.
Ryssdal: And quite a few of those figures as well. Celebrities, politicians, pretty much everyone.
BEARD: That’s right. And the scale of this alleged abuse is pretty extraordinary. We’re talking here between 2 and 3,000 people, according to “The Guardian.” People like the actress Gwyneth Paltrow, even cabinet ministers, including the deputy prime minister at the time, John Prescott. If true, pretty risky move by “The News of the World.”
Ryssdal: As with all good scandals, Stephen, there is an allegation of a cover up, yes?
BEARD: That’s right. And “The Guardian” says the Murdoch empire tried to cover this scandal up, paying about $1.6 million to a couple of the victims of the alleged phone tapping. These were out-of-court settlements, with a confidentiality clause, designed, says “The Guardian,” to keep the whole affair under wraps.
Ryssdal: It does seem too delicious. If Murdoch were covering this in one of his papers, we’d never be hearing the end of it.
BEARD: Absolutely. This is not, I should say, being reported extensively in the Murdoch papers.
Ryssdal: Yeah, needless to say. The police, though, Stephen, have said they’re stratified nothing else has happened. But now the crown prosecutors are looking into this?
BEARD: That’s right. And they’re not the only ones. The parliamentary committee is opening its own hearings into this affair next week. As you say, the crown prosecution service says they’re going to take another look at the case. The role of the police is one of the controversial aspects of this affair. The suggestions are they may have been lent on by this powerful media company to slow down and stop their investigations. We’re certainly going to hear a great deal more about this. There are still many questions to be answered.
Ryssdal: Speaking of hearing. Have we heard from Mr. Murdoch himself, the CEO of Newscorp?
BEARD: Yes, he was asked about this affair. He denied any knowledge of it and dismissed the claim that his company had tried to hush up the scandal. Mr. Murdoch said if one of my companies had paid out $1.6 million, I would be aware of it, let me tell you, they have not.
Ryssdal: Stephen Beard in London for us. Thank you, Stephen.
BEARD: OK, Kai.
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