News International, the unit of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp that oversees his British news operations, has reportedly added £80 million ($124 million) to the kitty it had set up to settle invasion-of-privacy lawsuits arising from telephone hacking conducted by reporters and private investigators working for the now-defunct tabloid News of the World . The legal fund had originally been established last April with £20 million ($31 million). According to the London Independent , NI lawyers are currently negotiating settlements with around 55 persons, many of them film and TV personalities, sports figures, and politicians, in the hope of avoiding further damage when a group of test cases is due to be heard in February. Some of those cases, the Independent said, are expected to be settled in the coming weeks, and while other claimants could take their place, doing so would likely result in court Delays, giving the company more time to settle those cases as well. Several analysts have speculated that News Corp's intention is to incorporate a non-disclosure agreement in each settlement that would have the effect of keeping a lid on the scandal and thereby prevent the exposure of higher-up figures in the company who may have been aware of the telephone hacking -- or even encouraged it. Meanwhile the London Financial Times has suggested that the £100-million settlement fund pales when compared with the torpedoing of Murdoch's £7.5 billion ($11.6 billion) bid to buy the 61 percent share of satellite operator BSkyB that News Corp didn't already own. Then there was the cost of shutting down News of the World and the loss of revenue from the popular tabloid. This year News Corp sold MySpace for $35 million, which it acquired in 2005 for $580 million. Two years later he bought the Wall Street Journal for $5.7 billion and has now written off $2.8 billion of that. News Corp's investors have always known that they own shares in a family company run by a patriarch, the FT 's Lex column, commented, referring to Murdoch. "This year added a new risk, however," it noted, "that the patriarch gives the appearance of not being in charge."
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The two awards have made for a great 72nd birthday present for the country music icon.