LONDON - News Corp Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch and his son James face questions from parliament on Tuesday in a phone-hacking scandal that has rocked Britain's establishment right up to Prime Minister David Cameron.
With a second British police chief quitting on Monday over the scandal, Cameron cut short a trade trip to Africa and was due to return in time for an emergency debate on Wednesday in parliament, which is delaying its summer recess.
As questions have multiplied about his judgment in the affair, what was to have been a week-long tour of the continent has left barely a dozen hours for talks with African officials.
The Murdochs' appearance before parliament's media select committee was expected to attract a television audience of millions keen to follow the latest twist in a saga that has shaken Britons' faith in their police, press and political leaders.
"It seems as if there will be standing-room only, that's not surprising as it's the first time Rupert Murdoch has been before a select committee in his 40 years of building up a media empire," said Paul Farrelly, an opposition Labour committee member.
The Australian-born Rupert Murdoch, who at 80 has spent half a lifetime building up a powerful position in the British media, arrived for his first ever questioning at parliament more than two hours before he was due to appear. Smiling from the back seat of his car as he drove in, he sat beside a copy of the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. paper he bought in 2007.
The U.S.-based Murdoch's British arm, News International, had long maintained that the practice of intercepting mobile phone voicemails to get stories was the work of a sole "rogue reporter" on the News of the World newspaper.
That defense crumbled in the face of a steady drip-feed of claims by celebrities that they were targeted.
The floodgates opened two weeks ago when a lawyer for the family of a murdered teenage schoolgirl said the paper had hacked her phone when she was missing, deleting messages and raising false hopes she could be still alive.
The ensuing outrage prompted News Corp to close the 168-year-old News of the World and drop a $12 billion plan to take full control of pay TV operator BSkyB, and saw the arrest of former News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks, a Murdoch protégée who once edited the newspaper.
Cameron has faced questions over his judgment in appointing former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his communications chief, while London police chief Paul Stephenson and anti-terrorism head John Yates stepped down within 24 hours of each other over their links to a former deputy editor of the newspaper.
SURVIVAL AT STAKE
Former Murdoch editor Bruce Guthrie, who worked for the company in Melbourne, said Murdoch faced a fundamental decision on the fate of the company he has built up into a global media giant from an Australian newspaper business.
"What it boils down to is this, what is more important for Rupert: the survival of the company or the survival of the family's control of the company?" he said.
"If he really is bent on saying I want this company remaining in the control of my family, which would be James, I reckon he has to take a bullet for James."
A News Corp board member told Reuters the group's independent directors were fully behind Rupert Murdoch. There has been talk in recent days that Chase Carey would be elevated from chief operating officer to take over from Murdoch, as CEO, with the latter staying as chairman.