A moment ago they were respected top executives at Britain’s most widely read newspapers and now they seem to be headed to jail.
As the intense scrutiny - verging on obsession – of the News of the World hacking scandal continued, police on Thursday arrested former News of the World executive editor Neil Wallis and hauled him in for questioning at a West London police station.
Sixty-year-old Wallis joined Rupert Murdoch's U.K. newspaper group News International in 1986 and rose to become deputy editor of the Sun. In 2003 he served as deputy editor of the News of the World under Andy Coulson's editorship and became the paper's executive editor in 2007.
Wallis was the ninth person to be arrested since the police launched a fresh investigation into the phone hacking scandal in January.
Coulson, who after leaving News of the World went on to serve as Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications chief until January this year, was arrested on Friday over his role in the phone hacking scandal and illegal payments to police. He was released on bail until October, right as the paper he used to lead was shut-down in disgrace.
Meanwhile, The Culture and Media Select Committee issued a summons to Murdoch, 80, and his son James, who served as chairman of News International and is expected to take over someday from his father as head of News Corporation.
Under parliamentary rules, fines and other sanctions can be imposed on people refusing to appear before committees.
But as U.S. – and not British – citizens, Rupert Murdoch, who initially declined a request to attend the session next Tuesday, and his son James, who has offered to go on another day, cannot be forced to appear.
News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, who was also summoned, has agreed to attend.
"Rupert and James Murdoch are American citizens, we don't have any power over them, but I think it would surprise everybody if they were to have the guts to show up,” said Conservative MP Louise Mensch, who is a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
"It would show a little bit of leadership, it would be the first step in lancing this giant boil… I would urge them to come before a select committee of parliament, to have the courage to show up and answer the questions."
Initially Murdoch said in a letter to the parliamentary committee that although he was not available next Tuesday, he would be "fully prepared" to give evidence to a judge-led inquiry to be convened next month. "I will be taking steps to notify those conducting the inquiry of my willingness to do so," he wrote.
His son, James, said he could not make the Tuesday date but was ready to appear before the media committee next month.
But later Thursday, the two reversed their decision after Prime Minister David Cameron said they should attend.
Murdoch said he would give evidence to the public inquiry announced by Cameron after questions were raised over the role of some police officers in the scandal and over the relations between British politicians and media owners.
Although parliamentary committees in Britain do not have judicial powers, an appearance by Murdoch would nonetheless be of great political and psychological significance in the highly-charged atmosphere surrounding the hacking scandal.
Outside of Britain, the Murdochs' problems were mounting as well, with members of the Bancroft family that sold him the Wall Street Journal expressing serious seller’s remorse.
Murdoch "thinks he is completely above the law as he always has," a member of the family told ProPublica. "We did a deal with the devil."
Over in Murdoch’s home country Australia, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said her government may review media laws. "To see some of the things that have been done to intrude on people's privacy, particularly in moments of grief and stress in the family lives, I've truly been disgusted to see it," Gillard told Australia's National Press Club.
"I anticipate that we will have a discussion amongst parliamentarians about this, about the best review and way of dealing with all of this," she said.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now