Murdoch rails against British hacking probe in leaked tape

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch branded the British police investigation into phone hacking and bribery by his journalists a "disgrace", according to a secret recording that contrasts with his public displays of contrition.

The Australian-born 82-year-old was speaking in March at a meeting with journalists at his top-selling British tabloid The Sun, where he also appears to suggest that reporters jailed as a result of the probe could get their jobs back.

According to the tape obtained by the Exaro investigative website and released by Channel 4 news late Wednesday, Murdoch said his News Corporation made a "mistake" in handing over so much information to police.

"It's a disgrace. Here we are, two years later, and the cops are totally incompetent," the News Corporation founder said.

He added: "But why are the police behaving in this way? It's the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing."

Murdoch shut down his top-selling News of the World tabloid in July 2011 after it emerged the weekly had illegally accessed the voicemails of hundreds of public figures, including a murdered teenager.

Hauled before British lawmakers to explain himself over the scandal, Murdoch apologised and said "this is the most humble day of my life".

But in the meeting this year, which was apparently secretly recorded by one of his own journalists, Murdoch was defiant, railing against the ongoing police investigations into hacking and the alleged bribery of public officials.

He singles out for condemnation the officers who arrested his former aide Rebekah Brooks. She is due to go on trial in September alongside Prime Minister David Cameron's ex-spin doctor Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor, on hacking and bribery charges.

Dozens of people have been arrested over the past two years in connection with the investigations.

Murdoch also indicated that any staff found guilty and jailed over the scandal could get their jobs back.

"You're all innocent until proven guilty. What you're asking is: what happens if some of you are proven guilty? What afterwards?" he said.

"I'm not allowed to promise you -- I will promise you continued health support -- but your jobs, I've got to be careful what comes out. But frankly, I won't say it, but just trust me."

Murdoch acknowledged that many of his journalists had been arrested on the basis of information handed over to police by News Corp.'s Management and Standards Committee (MSC).

"It was a mistake, I think" to give them so much, he said. "But in that atmosphere, at that time, we said: 'Look we are an open book, we will show you everything.'"

He said that in recent months the MSC had turned down police requests and told them to get a court order.

Murdoch also appeared to shed new light on his possible succession at his media empire.

Murdoch has divided New York-based News Corp since the hacking scandal into two companies separating the television and film business and the newspaper and publishing arm.

He remains in charge of both firms, and his youngest son James, 40, had until now been tipped as his heir apparent.

But James Murdoch has been criticised for failing to uncover the hacking scandal when he was executive chairman of News International, News Corp's British newspaper division, which is now known as News UK.

And when asked by journalists what will happen when he is no longer around, Murdoch does not mention his youngest son's name.

"The decision would be, well, it would either be with my son Lachlan or with Robert Thomson (chief executive of News Corp)," the tycoon said, according to the leaked tape.

In a statement, a News Corp spokesman said: "No other company has done as much to identify what went wrong, compensate the victims, and ensure the same mistakes do not happen again."

Murdoch had shown "understandable empathy with the staff and families affected", he added.

Opposition Labour lawmaker Tom Watson, who was a major force in exposing the hacking scandal, called for Murdoch to be questioned by police over the tapes.

A Scotland Yard spokesman told AFP when asked about the Murdoch tape: "We don't provide a running commentary I'm afraid."