Murdoch at Leveson as-it-happened

Murdoch faced Leveson today
Murdoch faced Leveson today

By Ian Dunt  and Alex Stevenson 

09:40 - Morning. Another day, another seismic moment of political drama. It's Rupert Murdoch's second day of evidence at the Leveson inquiry. Yesterday wasn't quite up there with James Murdoch on Tuesday, who gave evidence by detonation. But some juicy little scraps came out, including Murdoch's view of how Gordon Brown was "unbalanced". It should be a bit meatier today, with the questioning focusing on phone-hacking. You can see a summary of yesterday's session here. If you want a briefing on all of yesterday's events read this and follow the relevant links. The Hunt story is starting to die down today. That's partly sensible media management. He's set for an early Leveson appearance, and that timetable gives him breathing room, so unless the Sundays dig something up (they probably won't) he's safe for now. Nevertheless, there are still some challenges. Ed Miliband was giving it full welly on the Today programme this morning and Harriet Harman, deputy Labour leader and shadow media secretary, has raised three separate ways Hunt appears to have broken the ministerial code. I'll be bringing you any details about those developments as the day goes on, along with the Murdoch coverage. I have a couple of interviews to do today, so I may have pass over to my esteemed colleague Alex Stevenson once or twice. The points will be marked so you can remember to pay attention when he's writing. He's far more observant than I am. You can follow him on Twitter here.

10:01 - And we're off. Leveson starts by criticising press for the early publication of confidential documents before they are released on the website.

10:02 - They seem to be getting them because of their 'core participant' status - so they're using their role as observers for copy. Who'd have thought? 


10:03 - Jay seems entirely unchanged each day. He is so caustic even going to dinner with him must be an endurance contest of sarcasm and raised eyebrows. Obviously, I'm enormously charmed by him. We start with the Sun's coverage of the letter he wrote to the mother of a British soldier killed in Afghanistan (the Sun attacked him for writing illegibly). Murdoch says the report was too hard on Brown "because he had taken the trouble". He says he can't remember talking to him about it. Murdoch also mentions that Brown denies his comments yesterday when he said the then-PM said he would go to war with the Murdoch empire after the Sun switches allegiance. Murdoch stands by what he said and reminds us he said it under oath. 

10:07 - Jay says that yesterday he put to Murdoch some of his editors' views. Murdoch is gruff and unaffected. Murdoch is given a quote from a former Sun editor which says that Murdoch's editors "look at the world through Rupert's eyes". Murdoch says he understands what's being said but "it's nonsense and should be taken in the context of his very strange autobiography." Jay: "You said yesterday 'if you want to know my thinking look at the Sun'. The Sun would only know your thinking ...." You can see where Jay is going with this. Murdoch obfuscates. "I certainly take part in the policy process in the Sun." Jay ignores him and says Murdoch must tell the editors his view or work it out. He cites Murdoch's testimony from yesterday when the media mogul tries to evade and say he was referring to politicians.

10:11 - And on it goes. Murdoch is making a strange argument that he has no editorial influence. He admits he's not shy about his views. Jay says the same of his close associates. Jay mentions Michael Gove. Interesting.

10:13 - OK, we're on Gove now. "Is he close to you?" Murdoch says: "I wish he was." He met him at the Times. He and his wife had come to dinner once or twice. "I like people around me who are of interest and in different fields." Murdoch starts to pontificate on education standards. Jay allows him to blow himself out.

10:15 - After saying poor education is a crime he says "we want to do something about it". Interesting use of 'we'. Jay: "Thank you Mr Murdoch." And he moves onto the BSkyB bid. Did he discuss it with Hunt? Murdoch says no, he's not sure he ever met him. Hunt was in New York between August and September 2009. Did you meet then? Murdoch says no. Jay says he met members of News Corp. Murdoch is having one of his "I have no memory of it" moments. He insists he has never had a phone call with him. He is asked if his son ever spoke about him. After a long pause, Murdoch says no, but when the responsibilities were moved from Cable to Hunt he said something. "We were shocked by what Cable said and the unethical means that that was deleted from the story by the Telegraph who were clearly running the paper for their own commercial interests." 

10:19 - Murdoch: "I never saw anything wrong with what we were doing. It was a commonplace transaction. Why would I be worried about the politics of it?" Jay: "Cable had demonstrated there was a political dimension." Murdoch: "All our competitors in the newspaper industry had formed a consortium, very publically." His eyelids are drooped down, he looks slightly confused, uninterested. The picture he paints of News Corp as a victim really, the David to the British media's Goliath. Jay: "You were concerned by all the delay weren't you?"

10:21 - No, Murdoch says, after a very long pause. Did his son give him progress reports? Yes, Murdoch says. Was it along the lines of likely time scales, how it was going? Murdoch says no but then says he doesn't remember any conversation. "I delegated the situation to him, left it to him, he had alot on his plate and did not report as often as....  but he did report, of course." Jay: "Were you aware you had your own lobbi

yests lobbying government?" Murdoch says no, but he's learnt of the extent of Michel's "seeking of information" since. Jay asks if that was a recent discovery when the emails were disclosed. "I knew of Michel's existence a few months before that". Michel is News Corps man, talking to Adam Smith, Hunt's special adviser.

10:25 - Did he see anything wrong with his activities? No. he was surprised by how much there was. "I was surprised at the success of our competitors' lobbying." Jay: "were you not surprised by the success of Mr Michel's lobbying with the government." Murdoch says there was no success. They had to make big concessions for reasons he couldn't understand. Jay asks if he was surprised by the closeness between Michel and Hunt's office. Murdoch: "No. I don't want to say anything against mr Michel, but I think there could have been a bit of exaggeration there." Jay: Maybe you weren't surprised because he assumed Hunt's office would be onside.

10:27 - Murdoch earlier said: "BSkyB bid would have succeeded if it hadn't coincided with the hacking scandal." Jay now asks him about it. He calls it the Milly Dowler disclosure and says "half of which has been partly disowned by police. He insists he's not making excuses. 

10:29 - Murdoch seems to be getting grumpier. Some commentators suggest that's Jay's intention. We're on phone-hacking now. Murdoch learned of the arrests of Goodman and Mulcaire... Jay starts. Murdoch stops him, with an edge in his voice, until he finds the right part of his witness statement. This is the start of a chronological assessment. He learnt of the arrests in a call with Les Hinton. Later Murdoch said he recalls being told News International was cooperating with police. Evidence at Leveson suggests otherwise, Jay says. Murdoch says he hired a law firm to aid in cooperation with police and refutes the argument. When they closed the file, it was inconceivable they would have done so if they were unhappy with NI's cooperation. Jay says that's not the evidence they have from their law firm which showed NI was being "obstructive". Murdoch: "That shocks me deeply and I was unaware of that." Jay says NI is a still claiming privilege. "You know that don't you?" Murdoch: "I'm not aware of that detail." Jay is in attack formation, he says Murdoch knew when he recognised that fact in front of the select committee.

10:35 - "It doesn't alter the fact the police said they were satisfied this was a rogue reporter and were closing their file." Murdoch says he was shielded. "I could name one or two people in that who perhaps I shouldn't name. Maybe the editor but certainly beyond that someone took charge of a cover up which we were victims of. Perhaps I should regret.... We did take steps after the conviction and the resignation of Mr Coulson."

10:39 - Murdoch says he regrets this greatly. Jay says Murdoch used the term cover-up. "Throughout this story there is a consistent." Something happens off camera. Leveson says: "Would you please sit down. I would be grateful if you wouldn't do that again." Not sure what happened there. Murdoch looked scared - he has reason to, people do tend to attack him in public.

10:40 - Murdoch says the cover up culture came from the strong personalities in the organisation. This person (he won't say who) stopped people reporting to Rebekah Brooks or James Murdoch. Murdoch's clearly got a scapegoat in mind.

10:42 - Reporters in the court say that was a Murdoch representative trying to walk up and talk to NI counsel. Apparently NI people in the court look worried. Murdoch is telling the court that Myler "would not have been my choice" as editor of News of the World. Myler, by the way, has questioned some of James Murdoch's testimony to the media committee. "I hoped Mr Myler would do what he was commissioned to do," Murdoch says. "He did not report back to [Hinton]. Maybe he didn't find anything out. He certainly didn't report back."

10:45 - Jay: Were you aware of Coulson's settlement package. No. Jay: You said Myler was hired to find out what was going on. What steps did you use to check if he was doing that? Murdoch: Nothing. I relied on Hinton. Jay: You said this was serious. Murdoch tries to interrupt. Jay stops him. "Was this not an issue which required your personal attention?" Long pause. Then Murdoch says: "In hindsight, I said the buck stops with me so I have to agree with you." Jay says the buck stops with me is axiomatic. He means something more. He means that given it was so important, why didn't he do more? "I trust Mr Hinton. I delegated that responsibility to Mr. Hinton." Jay: "Did you have discussions with Mr Hinton about this?" Murdoch: "No." Jay: "Some might say this is consistent with a desire to cover up?" Murdoch: "To minds like yours perhaps." Leveson warns Murdoch off that. Jay smiles. "I'm very thick skinned." Telling moment there.

10:49 - Leveson is playing good cop and rephrases the question for Jay, flattering Murdoch with lots of talk of "print runs through your veins". Murdoch: "I have to admit that some newspapers are closer to my heart than others. I also have to say I failed."

10:50 - Long pause. The audience takes that in. "I'm sorry" Murdoch says eventually. Leveson: "It doesn't quite answer the question." Murdoch says if he had been in Hinton's place he would also have closed that file. "With hindsight..." Leveson pushes on. "Hindsight's always very good. This wasn't just a question of a reporter doing what the reporter did with the private detective.I wonder whether you wouldn't want to know what was the climate within your newspaper that had encouraged the reporter to think this was a correct way to proceed?"

10:52 - Murdoch says newspaper people act on their own. They often protect their sources and don't tell their colleagues what's going on. Murdoch references the Times NightJacker case, saying that didn't reflect the culture there, while the NOTW situation did. He says he didn't pay enough attention to the NOTW through the whole time he owned it."It was an omission by me and all I can do is apologise to a lot of people including all the innocent people at the NOTW who lost their jobs." 

10:55 - Now we're on the Gordon Taylor settlement in 2009. Murdoch says he was surprised by the size of it. "The size seemed incredible." Jay quotes what he said to his son. His son said he followed legal advice. "He was pretty inexperienced at the time. He ticked the box which didn't involve the risk of appeal and triple damages and all that." Jay suggests that was about confidentiality. Murdoch says no that would naive - confidentiality isn't worth the paper it's written on. Jay says he knew it had confidentiality in it. Murdoch says yes. So that wasn't worth the paper it was written on either. Murdoch says he didn't think about it.

10:58: This is getting very difficult for Murdoch. He says no-one told him the risk of reputational harm if the Taylor payment wasn't made. "Did you suspect by 2009 that the rogue reporter argument was getting thin?" Murdoch says no. He says the Guardian coverage was disowned by police. "We chose to take the word of the police over the word of the Guardian."

11:00 - OK, five minutes break. Back in a bit.

11:11 - In the mean time. Downing Street is questioning Murdoch's account of his meetings with Cameron. Murdoch said there were eight. Cameron says there were four, only two of which were substantive. The morning lobby, where the PM's spokesman give information (that's optimistic) to journalists is taking place now. I'll give you any details from that as I get it. The session has now started again.

11:13 - The 'one rogue reporter' line is pass the parcel. Jay says the Met say they never used it - they got it from NI. NI says they relied on police for it. Murdoch says he respects the Guardian. "They look after their audience pretty well." Jay asks him if it were not for the Guardian, the story would never have gotten into the public domain. Long pause. This is painful for Murdoch. He says perhaps. The Independent were getting noisy. "Well who else was investigating it. If it wasn't for the good work of the Guardian all of this would have remained concealed." Murdoch: "I don't think so but perhaps." Jay: "How would it have come out?" "I don't know."

11:16 - Jay reads from Tom Watson's book, Dial M for Murdoch. It says Brown called Watson to say Murdoch spoke to Blair to tell him to tell the media committee MPs to back off (phew). Murdoch denies it.

11:17 - Jay: Why did you say in July last year, when asked your priority, 'this one' pointing at Brooks. Murdoch says they were mobbed by journalists. "You are under duress," in that situation, Murdoch says. Leveson raises his eyebrow. Jay: "Are you suggesting those journalists were acting inappropriately." Murdoch: "I think it's part of the game." Jay: "What's the game?" Murdoch: "To harass people."

11:20 - Jay - why wasn't your instant response instead of 'this one' - 'we need to clean up my company'." Murdoch says he was concerned for Brooks. He wanted to keep her self-confidence up. Jay moves onto the 'brand definition' of the NOTW, which Murdoch has said is consistent. Murdoch gets angry when Jay says NOTW did "salacious title tattle". He says: "It's very easy for you to say that." The conversation is getting more and more bad-tempered.

11:24 - Jay reads from John Major's autobiography, which says press hostility was partly due to circulation falls. "He was talking about other newspapers?" Murdoch says. Jay: "Is that a serious answer Mr Murdoch?" Murdoch insists it is.

11:27 - Murdoch says he's tried to distinguish throughout the difference between the Sun and the NOTW. "You lump them together all the time and I think it's grossly unfair to the Sun". 

11:30 - Murdoch is on the Mosley case. He says Justice Eady, who presided over it, was bafflingly shocked by that. Jay presses on. He asks if Murdoch read the judgement. He says it's clear and considered and that it says his journalists had perpetrated blackmail of these two women. "Is it really your position 'we don't have to worry about what he says'?" Murdoch says no, he respects them. "Journalists dong a favour for someone and getting a favour back is everyday practice. Leveson says Justice Eady rejected the allegation. He then asks if Murdoch's view is that it's appropriate to say to a member of the public - 'we've this photo of you, we can do this two ways. We can embarrass you by unpixelating you photo or we give you money and you tell us the inside story'. Leveson shoots down Murdoch denying the story. Leveson: "I wasn't there I've only read the judgement but I ought to make it very clear to you that I find that approach somewhat disturbing."

11:34 - Again Murdoch apologises - this time for not reading the judgement. He says it's common in life to say 'I'll scratch your back.' He evades the question. Leveson: "Without asking you to return I think I would ask you to look at that judgement and let me know what you think."

11:37 - Now we're on Anne Diamond. She claims she was threatened by the Murdoch press. Murdoch says he doesn't remember her. "Too remote from this country perhaps." Jay puts it to Murdoch that he colluded with his editors to target her.

11:39 - Downing Street has just said it will not call in an independent advisor on whether Hunt broke the ministerial code (it's the PM who has to authorise investigations into breaches, usually. God knows how much longer we can continue to endure that system).

11:42 - Interesting. Murdoch attacks Paul Dacre for saying his editorial policy is "driven by commercial interests". Um. This is getting interesting. "I was shocked," Murdoch says. "The editorial policy of the Mail is driven by a commercial interest." Jay says that was specifically about the BSkyB bid alliance.

11:44 - Jay says he's sure he's right. Murdoch grumbles. Jay carries on: "Would you agree that maintaining editorial standards in newspapers can cost money."

11:45 - Murdoch says it's more expensive not to. Now we move onto Andrew Neil on CNN. He says Murdoch is not responsible for every single act, but you "create a climate and I would argue his take no prisoners attitude, the end justifies the means, that created the newsroom climate where hacking and other things were done with impunity on an industrial scale". Murdoch says he doesn't know what he's talking about. He starts banging the table with his finger. The editor takes responsibility for every word, he says. "Andrew Neil seems to have found it very profitable to get up and spread lies about me but that's his business."

11:48 - Murdoch asks when the evidence he has given to the inquiry will go up on the website. Jay carries on. Murdoch: "I want an answer." Jay: "I don't give answers to questions Mr Murdoch, I just ask them." Leveson tries to calm things down.

11:49 - "Privacy laws are always for the great and the good and not for the mass of democracy."

11:54 - "Have you ever asked your editors to promote your other business interests?" Murdoch: "I don't have any other business interests." Jay says he has TV channels for instance. "I certainly don't ask my journalists to promote our other TV channels or our films. You ought to read our critics on the New York Post on our Fox films. They killed them."

11:56 - "I'm sorry I didn't close the NOTW years before and put a Sunday Sun in," Murdoch says.

11:57 - Jay says the closure was a reputational disaster. Murdoch: "Let me agree with you. I think historically this whole business of NOTW is a serious blot on my reputation."

11:58 - Murdoch said he closed the NOTW because of the Milly Dowler story. "You could feel the blast coming in through the windows almost." He admits he panicked.

11:59 - Murdoch goes through the timeline, including the select committee. "Our response to [their report] was far too defensive and disrespectful to parliament". A member challenged him to be the person to clean it all up. He says he has. He spent hundreds of millions of dollars. He examined 300 million emails and sent two million to the lawyers and sent anything faintly suspicious to the police. We are now a new company. we have new rules. We're showing in the Sun you can still produce the best newspaper without the bad practices which are disclosed." Jay: "What that answer demonstrates is that when decision was taken to clean out the stables that was an over-reaction because you realised the history before demonstrated cover-up."

12:04 - Murdoch says he had made his "personal pledge" to parliament. He adds: "It's caused pain to families, distress to myself. But I'm glad we did it."

12:05 - Speaking about 2007 Murdoch says: "I should have thrown all the lawyers out of there, cross examined [Goodman] myself and made up my mind whether he was taking telling the truth. If I came to the conclusion he was I would have torn the place apart."

12:07 - Ok, Leveson takes another five minutes. And so will we.

12:25 - We're back - this is Alex Stevenson taking over from Ian for a bit. His fingers are falling off, and, more importantly, a man's got to eat. They're back underway, with Jay talking about a "continuum or spectrum" of wrongdoing from criminal behaviour at one end to mere unethical behaviour at the other. Jay's thesis is a little complicated, and Murdoch has to ask for another explanation. Jay appears to be suggesting that "business costs" associated with setting up a decent ethical culture might have been skipped. "Could it not be said your failure to ensure there were proper systems of internal governance at the News of the World demonstrates a cavalier attitude to the business risk?" Murdoch says that's "not fair".

12:29 - "Editors are all responsible for their papers," Murdoch is now saying. Jay seems unimpressed by the idea that upholding these ethical principles would rest on such a small handful of people. Murdoch won't accept the suggestion that "swashbuckling or cavalier attitudes" were responsible, however.

12:31 - Another spasm of contrition from Murdoch here: "The News of the World, to be quite honest, is an aberration and it's my fault." All very well, but he's not really offering any explanations about what caused the failure.

12:35 - Next Jay is letting Murdoch move on to talk about the internet. Not entirely clear what he's talking about, initially... but eventually it emerges that he thinks the slowly developing internet has now reached a stage where it is "absolutely in our space" and has been "responsible for a loss of circulation". He says in the long run "it's just too wide" - ie, it can't be regulated. "I think you have a danger of regulating which will mean there'll be no press in ten years to regulate." This is a really significant section, now - he's making the case against intense regulation as a result of Leveson.

12:39 - Murdoch reckons there will be very small circulations in 20 years, and eventually it won't be worth print editions at all. He's talking about the impact of little mobile phones on all this - they can be used for espionage, or whatever. "What can be done... it is perfectly possible and practical to say no pornography, no provision of links to content with intellectual property." Um... he's been talking uninterrupted for several minutes, now. He seems to be suggesting that, somehow, the internet could be much more effectively regulated and controlled. It's a bit rambling, though, so I'm not completely clear what on earth he's banging on about.

12:42 - He still hasn't finished... the BBC's online presence is mentioned, and then we're back to closing newspapers. It certainly appears as if Murdoch is against the internet, in general. "I don't think it's really added to the diversity of information to the press," he says. Poor old local media, he's thinking. "I think it'll be a very sad day if the major ones [newspapers] disappear." Is this speech just an attempt to divert some of the attention away from phone-hacking?

12:44 - Now he's talking about the Times pay wall, versus organisations that provide a news operation for free. Advertising is rising, he concedes. He complains about Apple taking 30% of the cost of the Times iPad app. Gosh - 30%! That is a lot. "But that's another matter," he says, having made the point clearly enough. This is turning into an advertisement of its own for News International products. The iPad app has lots of nice pictures on it, he says.

12:47 - Finally he wraps up with his key point: "When it comes to regulation I just beg for some care because it really is a very complex situation. A varied press guarantees democracy and we want democracy rather than autocracy." Leveson says he agrees with Murdoch, which will be a relief to the 81-year-old, no doubt. But he repeats that continuum of wrongdoing which Jay was going on about earlier - from the basically wrong, but not necessarily sanctionable, to the downright criminal. "Some enforcement must come internally," Leveson says, and Murdoch agrees with that happily, before then explaining that some sort of mechanism is needed to resolve complaints which fall short even of the middle ground, justifying civil legal action.

12:51 - "I think everyone's doing it for money, including the bloggers." He cites the Huffington Post, which started as a "political pamphlet", and says that - while he doesn't think they're making a profit - says they're read by millions. Then comes the Mail, which he says just "steals" from other publications and goes "right up to the barrier of what is fair use of other people's material". Murdoch seems thoroughly grumpy that they're getting so many readers. His point is that the "profit motive" includes everybody. "It is a very difficult subject and you have my sympathy, sir," he says. Leveson observes James Murdoch said it was above his pay grade. His father says: "It's above mine!"

12:53 - Oh dear. Leveson gives Murdoch a chance to expand on ethical standards, in general. Murdoch says that he had gone through the whole of News Corporation trying to examine 300 million emails, of which two million were chosen for closer examination. This led to "the arrest and terrible distress of a number of families of journalists who'd been with me many, many years who were friends of mine". This "caused me a lot of pain but we did it", he adds.

12:55 - Murdoch appears to misunderstand an invitation from Leveson to talk about the victims of phone-hacking by talking about News of the World ex-employees instead. When Leveson brings him back to it he says: "I regret it and I've said it's going to be a blot on my reputation for most of my life," Murdoch says. "I know," Leveson says impatiently. He wants to know if there's anything else Murdoch wants to say. Looks like we're coming to a close now. Well, Jay has finished, anyway.

13:01 - A lawyer representing Associated Newspapers asks a question about Murdoch's comment about Dacre. He seems to think that Murdoch was mistaken in thinking that Dacre had said commercial interests were being pursued. Murdoch, briefly brushing that aside, instead claims in high-and-mighty tones that "I have contributed to plurality" of the press. His voice wobbling a bit there as he is "very complimentary" to Dacre, in general terms. But the lawyer brings him back to this 'commercial interests' claim, and seems happy with a wishy-washy interpretation of it.

13:04 - Next up is John Hendy QC, representing the National Union of Journalists, who has a monstrously long number of questions to put to Murdoch. Leveson says he'll only let him ask a small number of them, but then Murdoch says he's happy to answer the last one. Leveson is in a hurry, and there is now some legal wrangling between lawyers before Mr Hendy gets the go-ahead.

13:07 - Right - let's get on with this then. Lunch not coming along just yet, it seems. Q1 is about the unethical treatment of journalists themselves. Murdoch brushes this aside - they're all very happy and well paid, he insists. But the NUJ's lawyer Hendy cites evidence to the inquiry of bullying at News International titles by the NUJ's general secretary. "Our journalists are perfectly free to make complaints," Murdoch says defiantly. Leveson points out that the complaints weren't just about News International - they were more general than that.

13:09 - "There was a culture of bullying," Hendy declares. "Why didn't she resign?" Murdoch says, very shortly. "I think the problem with that might be she needs a job," Leveson says. Perhaps because it's so unexpected a line of questioning, Murdoch is being especially prickly here. "They always struck me as being a happy crowd," he mumbles.

13:14 - Hendy's style is much more aggressive than Jay's. His agenda is that the NUJ should have been allowed to have a presence at News International. Murdoch denies that, of course. Hendy says the NUJ's been looking for the insertion of a 'conscience clause' in contracts which lets journalists off if they're asked to do anything dodgy. "Do you think it's a good idea?" Leveson says, quickly. Now here's a surprise - "Yeah," Murdoch says. "But not through the NUJ." Significant concession there and the NUJ will be delighted with that.

13:16 - Hendy suggests that News International chiefs might have talked with Tony Blair to ensure a provision was included in legislation blocking the NUJ or any other union from making an application for collective bargaining at News International. Murdoch says he has no knowledge of anything like that.

13:18 - Now we're wrapping up. Leveson thanks Murdoch and assures him statements will be going up on the website soon. The court rises, all bow to the judge, and Leveson makes his way out of court room 73. So there it is: a dramatic morning at the Leveson inquiry, where Rupert Murdoch responded to some unusually strong questioning from Robert Jay with a mixture of contrition and aggression. Attack may be the best form of defence, but it has its limits. Here's my story summing up the morning, which I wrote up just before taking over from Ian on this live blog. I'd better say thanks very much for this live commentary, now, and switch over to updating it now we've finished. From both Ian and myself, thanks for following our blog.
 

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