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Everything on the line for Murdoch today

For Rupert Murdoch, the three hours he'll spend in a small, "bland" committee room across from the House of Commons today, answering tough questions from MPs about phone-hacking and police-bribing within his company, is just about the most important three hours he's ever faced in his career.

On the line is very possibly the empire he's spent his entire adulthood building. In the past two weeks, the question being debated has gone from whether Murdoch's son, James, will remain his father's heir apparent, to whether Rupert will even be able to remain at the helm of News Corp. Board members are said to be unhappy with Murdoch's response to the crisis and are contemplating what was once unthinkable -- replacing him with his deputy, Chase Carey, if his performance today turns out to be disastrous -- as some board members fear it will.

The setting for Rupert couldn't be worse. Despite the fact that he controls a media empire, the tycoon has never been a very good public communicator. "He is awful at this sort of stuff," biographer Michael Wolff told the Guardian. "He is pretty inarticulate, mumbles all the time and is incredibly defensive."

He has never testified before parliament before and has only attended congressional hearings in the United States twice. There's a reason that so far the only interview he's given is to the Wall Street Journal -- his own paper (and even to them he raised a few eyebrows saying he was "tired.")

Murdoch has been preparing for the performance today like a candidate getting ready for a presidential debate. He's remained mostly behind closed doors for days rehearsing his answers with a team of advisors -- including lawyers and P.R. wizard Steven Rubenstein. But News Corp. executives who have watched Murdoch prepare are concerned about his ability to handle the tough questions, according to Bloomberg.

Murdoch will likely apologize again to the families of murder victims who had their phones hacked. But he is unlikely to accept criticism of his company's handling of the crisis, if the last week is any guide. He told the Wall Street Journal that News Corp. has handled the crisis "extremely well in every way possible" and only made "minor mistakes."

Also testifying today will be his son James and Rebekah Brooks, the former News International executive who was arrested over the weekend. Given the criminal cloud hanging over her, Brooks is unlikely to answer too many questions. Both James and Rupert will have lawyers sitting with them and may consult with them before answering questions.  

The parliamentarian chairing the committee hearing, Conservative MP John Whittingdale, has said he doesn't want the hearing to turn into a lynch mob.

But others on the committee have spoken of the need to ask aggressive or awkward questions. One person to keep an eye on is Labor MP Tom Watson, who is seen as a long-time critic of News International and the Murdochs (the Guardian called him Murdoch's "tormentor-in-chief"). He's solicited questions from constituents via Twitter. And he's likely to ask some very tough ones about alleged attempts to cover-up the scandal by James Murdoch -- who authorized paying millions of dollars to hacking victims over the years.

His stated goal: "To get Rupert Murdoch to apologize to the people his journalists have wronged."

Murdoch's goal now, it seems, is to survive.

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Cambodia-Thai dispute forces creation of another DMZ

A two square mile patch of grassland on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, surrounding the 11th-century Hindu temple of Preah Vihear, has been a regional flashpoint for decades. The skirmishes have escalated in recent years and both countries maintain hundreds of troops along the border. But the fighting could quiet down soon if the sides agree to a ruling today by the U.N.'s International Court of Justice. The court declared that a demilitarized zone should be established immediately in the region surrounding the temple, outlined here in diagrams from the Bangkok Post. The two countries have indicated they would abide by the decision. 

With the U.N. ruling, the area surrounding Preah Vihear joins a handful of other demilitarized zones around the world. The most famous of these has divided North Korea and South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953. The zone has played an important role maintaining the uneasy peace between the two countries, while also serving as a surprisingly effective wildlife refuge for a number of northeast Asia's endangered species. A similar phenomenon has emerged in the buffer zone established under U.N. control in 1974 between Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a breakaway region recognized only by Turkey.

Israel also deals with its share of DMZs -- one at the Golan Heights, where U.N. forces have maintained the ceasefire between Syria and Israel since 1974, and one at the Sinai Peninsula. But the latter now contains Egyptian soldiers deployed with Israel's permission during the chaos of the Arab Spring, after Bedouin tribesmen started bombing gas lines in the region to protest their treatment at the hands of the Egyptian government. Israel imports 40 percent of its gas from Egypt.

Looking for the next emerging DMZ? The two Sudans agreed in late May to set up a demilitarized zone along their border, but the details are still very much in the works. Conflict continues to brew over the contested region of Abyei, which lies in the middle of the border. Without a resolution to the dispute, the DMZ there could be a long ways off.

 

 

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