"The most humble day of my career." That was how media mogul Rupert Murdoch described his appearance before the British House of Commons' media committee on Tuesday.
Murdoch, his son James and former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks had to answer questions from members of parliament about the widening News of the World phone-hacking scandal. The 80-year-old CEO of News Corp seemed confused and overwhelmed at times during the grueling hearing, which lasted around three hours, but refused to accept any responsibility for wrongdoing. He claimed that he did not know about the phone-hacking at the News of the World, saying only he had been let down by "people I trusted."
James Murdoch, who is responsible for News Corp's European and Asian operations, gave more extensive answers to MPs' questions. "I would like to say just how sorry I am and how sorry we are to particularly the victims of illegal voicemail interceptions and to their families," he said.
The most dramatic moment came when a prankster tried to shove a shaving-cream pie into Rupert Murdoch's face. He was fought off by Wendi Deng, Rupert Murdoch's wife, who was praised for her "very good left hook" by Labour MP Tom Watson.
Cameron under Pressure
Meanwhile the scandal is placing British Prime Minister David Cameron under increasing pressure. Cameron has been criticized for hiring former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his director of communications. Coulson, who resigned from his Downing Street position earlier this year, was recently arrested in relation to the affair.
On Wednesday, Cameron made a statement to the House of Commons as part of a special parliamentary session on the phone-hacking affair. He outlined his action plan for an investigation into the matter and said he took full responsibility for hiring Coulson.
Journalists at the tabloid newspaper News of the World, which Murdoch has now shut down, are accused of hacking into as many as 4,000 mobile phones, including that of a girl who had been kidnapped and was later found dead, the widow of a soldier killed in Iraq and the phones of the family members of terror victims.
On Wednesday, German commentators analyze Tuesday's hearing.
SPIEGEL ONLINE's London correspondent Carsten Volkery writes:
"Overall, the old man's performance was not very convincing. The show of weakness may have been calculated to gain sympathy from the British public. The physical attack could also help to arouse pity. But one day the image of the media mogul splattered with shaving foam may retrospectively be seen as a symbol of his decline."
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"The barely suppressed schadenfreude at Tuesday's spectacle was tangible. Finally, the powerful media tycoon, who politicians had sought to woo for years, had to make a humiliating appearance on the politicians' home turf. It was the politicians who were now dictating the rules to the man who had dictated the rules for decades. It was an exercise in humility for someone who is merciless. Then on top of that there was the attack by an angry demonstrator. It was the perfect drama."
"Such tribunals act like a safety valve: The pent-up tension is released, and in the end the audience experiences catharsis. But no one should expect any more than that from the Commons hearing. It would be wrong to believe that Britain made a big step forward in dealing with the scandal on Tuesday. In that respect, the country is still just at the beginning."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"One can only hope that the wish of the British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg -- that the phone-hacking scandal leads to a new sense of responsibility in the media -- does not turn out to be just naive idealism. What the Murdoch papers and their so-called journalists have done is brazen, unscrupulous and criminal. Their social proximity to politicians and their influence on politics is reprehensible. The sleaze is so widespread that even high-ranking police officers have had to resign. Even Prime Minister Cameron, who apparently was not always in full possession of his senses when it came to choosing his associates, is facing calls for his resignation."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The greatest danger for Cameron now comes from his coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats. So far they have emerged from the affair fairly unscathed. Their involvement in the scandal appears to be shallower (than other parties). At some point, however, the party will have to take a position on the affair -- and dissociate itself (from those involved)."
"The Liberal Democrats will not let themselves be imprisoned in the coalition. They will find their own words at the right moment. This could be the breaking point for the British government. The Liberal Democrats have always presented themselves as a party that represented a change in the system. Now the time has come to say goodbye to the Murdoch system."
The business daily Handelsblatt writes:
"Murdoch maybe still has a chance to put out the fire and save his company. He has to give up part of his influence and part of his company."
"There needs to be a new corporate culture at News Corp. The group needs independent managers and effective controls. The company must radically break with the past. And that's not possible with Rupert Murdoch at the helm. The 80-year-old has until now proved that he runs the global company as a small family business and put the interests of his favorites above those of the company."
"Murdoch has achieved enormous things. News Corporation is the world's second largest media group. But Murdoch's life's work can only survive if he goes."