LONDON, (Reuters) – Prime Minister David Cameron, defending his integrity to parliament in emergency session yesterday, said he regretted hiring a journalist at the heart of a scandal that has rocked Britain’s press, police and politics.
But in hours of stormy questioning he seemed to rally his Conservative party behind him and stopped short of bowing to demands that he apologise outright for what the Labour leader called a “catastrophic error of judgment” in appointing as his spokesman a former editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World.
Only if Andy Coulson, who has since resigned, should turn out to have lied about not knowing of illegal practices at his newspaper would the prime minister offer a “profound apology”.
Analysts said Cameron emerged from the debate looking stronger than when he was forced to fly home early from Africa to face lawmakers who had delayed their summer recess by a day. But he left some lingering questions unanswered, notably about his role in Murdoch’s takeover bid for TV network BSkyB .
Beleaguered but hardly under serious threat of being ousted by his party allies after less than 15 months in power, Cameron defended his actions and those of his staff in dealings with Murdoch’s News Corp global media empire and with two senior police chiefs who resigned this week over the affair.
“He seems to have gained a bit of breathing space over the course of this debate,” said Andrew Russell, senior politics lecturer at Manchester University. “He looked more self assured today than he has been for a little while.”
A day after Murdoch apologised to a British parliamentary committee, but denied personal responsibility for the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World, he sent a message to his staff that his company was taking steps to ensure that “serious problems never happen again”.
“Those who have betrayed our trust must be held accountable under the law,” he said in an e-mail.
Some investors speculate the scandal may hasten a handover of power in the company from the Murdoch family in a way that may streamline global operations.
Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who says his Kingdom Holding is the second biggest shareholder in News Corp and controls 7 percent of the votes, said on Wednesday he still saw the company as a valuable and long term investment.