CNN star Piers Morgan testifies before UK inquiry

LONDON (AP) — CNN star interviewer Piers Morgan was answering questions Tuesday about his time at the top of Britain's tabloid industry — widely anticipated testimony that may dredge up allegations his British newspaper career was colored by wrongdoing.

Morgan ran two British tabloids — the News of the World and the Daily Mirror — before his editorship was cut short by scandal in 2004. He's was giving evidence to Britain's media ethics inquiry by video link from the United States — one of a host of tabloid newspaper executives to face the inquiry, set up in the wake of the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

More than a dozen journalists have been arrested, senior executives with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. media empire have lost their jobs, and top U.K. police officers have resigned over their failure to tackle the scandal. Witnesses at the inquiry have exposed the seamy side of British journalism, with reporters accused of cooking up stories, blackmailing subjects, hacking phones and paying bribes to police officers to secure tips.

Morgan may have more juicy details to add. His memoirs contain tantalizing references to questionably obtained material, and the 46-year-old has acknowledged condoning unethical behavior — including overseeing payoffs to spies on rival newspapers.

Morgan denies having ever hacked a phone or knowingly run a story based on hacked information. But he's expected to be quizzed on statements that appear to refer to the practice — in particular a 2006 article in which he says he was played a phone message left by former Beatle Paul McCartney on the answering machine of his now ex-wife Heather Mills.

Mills has said there's no way Morgan could have gotten hold of the message honestly.

The inquiry, led by Lord Justice Brian Leveson, heard Tuesday about the culture in tabloid newsrooms — one described by some witnesses as being scarred by bullying.

Steve Turner, general secretary of the British Association of Journalists, said he had dealt with more than a dozen cases of bullying in the newsroom in recent years. He blamed diminishing circulation and "the demand to produce better stories and more of them from a diminishing work force" for some of the pressure, but said the culture at Murdoch's News of the World was particularly challenging.

That, he said, may have "pressured people more than most into behaving appallingly."

The inquiry heard earlier Tuesday from reporter Sharon Marshall, whose book "Tabloid Girl: A True Story" detailed the misdemeanors of Britain's press — including faked expenses, manufactured quotes, unscrupulous reporters, hot-tempered editors and worse.

Marshall took pains to distance herself from her own book, saying she never intended to accuse anyone of wrongdoing and that the last half of the title — "True Story" — might have been misleading.

"I intended this as a comical tale," she said.

One by one, she dismissed her nearly all her own stories — which her book insists are accurate — as "dramatization," ''topspin," ''a good yarn," ''a joke," or an "embellished shaggy dog tale."

True or not, Morgan seems to have approved; In a blurb splashed across the cover, he called the book "hilarious and gossipy."

Separately, Rupert Murdoch's News International announced settlements with seven more prominent figures in the wake of the phone hacking scandal at the now-shuttered News of the World.

The company said in a statement Tuesday it had settled claims brought by Princess Diana's former lover James Hewitt, ex-Liberal Democrat lawmaker Mark Oaten, TV presenter Ukrika Jonsson, model Abi Titmuss, and Paul Dadge, who helped rescue victims of the 2005 London transit bombings. Theatrical agent Michelle Milburn and Calum Best, the son of soccer legend George Best, rounded out the settlement list.

At least one more settlement — with former England soccer player Paul Gascoigne — appeared imminent, according to lawyer Jeremy Reed.

The terms of the new payments announced Tuesday were not disclosed but they are likely to be substantial. Sienna Miller received 100,000 pounds (nearly $157,000) in damages when she settled with News International; the family of murdered British schoolgirl Milly Dowler were awarded 2 million pounds ($3.1 million) plus 1 million pounds ($1.6 million) from Murdoch himself, which was earmarked for charity.

Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old News of the World in July after the full hacking scandal broke.

___

Online:

Leveson Inquiry: http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/