LONDON (Reuters) - Rupert Murdoch was attacked by a protester on Tuesday while giving evidence to a parliamentary committee at which he defended his son and his company over a scandal that has rocked the British establishment.
His son James had opened the much-awaited proceedings in a committee room at Westminster by apologising for the distress caused to victims of voicemail hacking.
Following are analysts’ comments on the hearing:
”The combination of Rupert Murdoch’s age and the custard pie attack will have elicited a tremendous amount of sympathy.
”You couldn’t make this stuff up. It could have turned the whole situation around for them.
”I suspect that in the weeks to come we will probably look back at this moment and think it was pivotal for them.
”It puts the attention firmly back on the political ramifications and, in particular, David Cameron and his judgement over the whole Andy Coulson issue.
”It does bring back memories of (former prime minister) Jim Callaghan and ‘crisis, what crisis?’
“The Murdochs can say they apologised unreservedly, they faced the music, they endured a personal physical attack and all the while David Cameron has been out of the country saying that he was trying to give Coulson a second chance.”
”I think it (the attack) will have won him a bit of sympathy because it made people realise: yes, goodness, there are a lot of people who are really holding you accountable, you need those security guards.
”I think you forget how much anger and personal animosity towards him (there is) and he’s got to face that. By coming to parliament he exposed himself worldwide -- it was very brave...
”It (the attack) made me think he’s an old man, very frail, at the end of a long career. Of course he’s done very bad things, he’s made loads of business enemies, but he shouldn’t actually be physically attacked, that’s wrong.
(Will this obstruct the inquiries?) “No, I don’t think so. It’s just one incident. It will make parliament more careful about the security arrangements as this goes on.”
”You wonder how he got past security, given what it’s like getting into Portcullis House -- you have to go through a search like in an airport. It just undermines the whole thing.
”The fact that Rupert Murdoch is quite old and was clearly slightly puzzled by some of the questions because he couldn’t possibly have known them (the answers) is likely to increase the sympathy for him.
”To be honest, if you’re running a massive company you simply won’t know about lots of these things.
”James Murdoch seemed to get more confident as the hearing went on and I thought that the standard of questioning went steadily downhill.
“A select committee is not a court of law...and there’s only so much they can achieve.”
“It’s hard to know if it’s just a put-up job the extent to which Rupert Murdoch came across as bumbling and out of touch and his son as a nice guy who wanted to help everyone. I have a strong sense they have been coached.”
“It (pie attack) makes him more of a victim and someone we ought to be feeling sorry for.”
“Their defence was generally we’re far too above it to know all of the detail and we’ve been let down. It’s not totally implausible but it does beggar belief that they were not informed that some of their senior people were getting into trouble.”
”There haven’t been amazing questions that have led to profound revelations and embarrassment and stunned silence. It has been fairly controlled and they got in early with the apology.
”They are being boring -- which isn’t necessarily a bad tactic.
“They are probably just about going to get away with it. It has not turned into a complete rout.”
”This is all bad news for David Cameron. Although we are coming up to parliament’s summer recess, that won’t necessarily help Cameron and there’ll be constant whispering over the summer.
”I also have to say that we could be facing one of the world’s greatest financial crises at any moment and the entire attention of the political establishment and the media of this country is on this (the Murdoch hearing).
”There is this much bigger issue that is going which is getting no scrutiny.
”It’s also clear that there are some questions about corporate governance at the company. It’s all very well saying that you are a global concern, it’s terribly convenient.
“The person who is key to this to my mind is not before the committee. It’s Elisabeth Murdoch because she is separate from all this and one of the Murdochs will survive to carry this forward.”
”They say that when one door closes, another opens, although I’ve always been more attracted to the alternative version attributed I believe to the footballer Tommy Smith: “When one door closes anther slams in your face.” The point I am seeking to make is that the silver lining to the Murdoch’s current cloud is that BSkyB may be about to jettison James Murdoch as its Chairman. If it does so then it may become investable again.
”Certainly Sky makes good cash returns on capital, as befits a near monopoly provider of satellite broadcasting with great content ownership and the cash flow and predictability advantages of a subscription business model.
“In my view, Sky will only become investable if it is shorn of Murdoch control.”
“News Corp and BSKYB share price have not moved that much. It is extraordinary how Rupert Murdoch did not know what was going on.”
“If Max Clifford had a hefty payout and the police has got the details of 4,000 names that have been hacked, well that may end up costing News Corp some money. If there are 4,000 claimants and they have to pay out that sort of money, well it is not going to do News Corp finances any good at all.”
”I don’t think it has been terribly revealing or illuminating so far.
”Many of the MPs (lawmakers), with the exception of Tom Watson, have not been terribly successful at putting questions that actually put them on the spot.
”The Murdochs have used this tactic of saying they have no knowledge, which they may well not have, about particular issues.
”It is clear that decisions were devolved quite a way down the organisation because the News of the World was a small part of that total operation.
”James Murdoch is making the argument that ‘well, we are trying to clean out the stables now and we didn’t realise what the extent of the problem was’.
“It’s a rather mixed performance by the committee members at the moment and not all of them are putting the Murdochs under pressure.”
”I‘m not an anti-Murdoch cheerleader, but I am rather surprised how it’s not gone well for them.
”They were obviously thrown by not being allowed to read their opening statement, which we now know includes the line ‘this is the humblest day of my life’ that Rupert definitely intervened to make sure he got that out.
”That threw things. And Tom Watson (committee member) has focussed on Murdoch senior and again that threw their choreography. I think James Murdoch was supposed to do the heavy-duty lifting on facts and process.
”We heard Rupert Murdoch say ‘I am not responsible’ and that sounds strange from a CEO. It may have been that they wanted to distance Rupert from the detail.
”News Corp may have wanted to come out of this with headlines saying ‘the Murdochs are humbled’, but without any new guilt being pinned on either of them. That would have been a good result for them and part of the rebuilding process.
“But unfortunately it looks like that has been forced out of them.”
”There have been no big, blockbuster revelations so far, although the questioning so far has not been particularly aggressive.
”What has emerged is that Rupert Murdoch didn’t know the details of what was going on at News of The World, although given the size of his business empire it is questionable whether he should be expected to.
“Perhaps what is more interesting is some of the body language.”
Reporting by Christina Fincher, Peter Griffiths and Joanne Frearson