Murdoch under pressure to drop BSkyB bid

Three main political parties to join forces on parliamentary vote censuring News Corporation over phone hacking scandal.

    Protesters mock News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch and British PM David Cameron in London on Monday [Reuters]

    British politicians are to urge Rupert Murdoch to abandon his bid to take control of the country's largest satellite broadcaster in the wake of the phone hacking scandal that has plunged the media tycoon's British newspaper business into crisis.

    Prime Minister David Cameron said the coalition government would vote with the opposition Labour Party on Wednesday to support a motion calling on Murdoch's News Corporation media conglomerate to withdraw the $12bn offer for BSkyB.

    "What has happened at the company is disgraceful, it's got to be addressed at every level and they should stop thinking about mergers when they've got to sort out the mess they've created," Cameron told the House of Commons during Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday.

    Announcing details of a full public inquiry into the phone hacking scandal, Cameron said the judge-led investigation would have the power to summon newspaper proprietors.

    Murdoch, his son James, and Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International, have already been summoned to appear before a parliamentary committee to answer questions about the phone hacking allegations.

    Labour leader Ed Miliband said Wednesday's vote, which is not legally binding but is a powerful expression of sentiment, would be the simplest way to ensure that News Corporation's bid was not considered until the criminal investigations were complete.

    A final decision on the BSKyB takeover was delayed after Murdoch withdrew a promise to spin off news channel Sky News, inviting the British government to refer the bid to authorities charged with enforcing anti-monopoly laws. That is expected to delay any decision on the deal for months.

    Al Jazeera's Tania Page, reporting from London, said that Murdoch "may have sacrificed the News of the World to save his BSkyB deal, but with public and political pressure mounting, doubts over whether it will go through are increasing day by day".

    9/11 victims phones 'possibly hacked'

    A US senator, Jay Rockefeller, also called on Tuesday for an investigation into whether journalists working for Murdoch had targeted American citizens.

    Rockefeller said he was concerned that journalists may have accessed the voicemails of victims of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington in 2001.

    "This raises serious questions about whether [News Corporation] has broken U.S. law, and I encourage the appropriate agencies to investigate to ensure that Americans have not had their privacy violated," Rockefeller said in a statement.

    A senior British police officer, questioned in parliament on Tuesday about the phone hacking scandal that led to the closure of Murdoch's News of the World newspaper, said he believed he himself had been the victim of phone hacking.

    Opposition politicians have called for the resignation of John Yates, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. He decided in 2009 that there was nothing more to investigate at the paper. Yates says he relied on advice from colleagues.

    In 2007, a reporter and a private detective working for News of the World were sent to prison for hacking the voicemail messages of royal family employees.

    The widening investigation now also includes allegations that Murdoch's reporters paid bodyguards of Queen Elizabeth II for sensitive phone numbers and travel plans.

    The Sun denies Brown allegations

    Another Murdoch paper, The Sun, on Wednesday hit back at allegations that it had accessed former British prime minister Gordon Brown's medical records before publishing a story in which it revealed details about his young son's serious illness.

    Brown told the BBC he was devastated in 2006 when the paper informed him it planned to publish a story that his newborn son had cystic fibrosis, an often fatal disease.

    But, under the headline "Brown wrong", The Sun said the source of the story was a man with links to the Brown family whose son also had cystic fibrosis, and said the allegation the paper had hacked into medical records was "false and a smear".

    "We are able to assure the Brown family that we did not access the medical records of their son, nor did we commission anyone to do so," the paper said in a statement.

    Brown also told the BBC it appeared the Sunday Times - also owned by News International - had obtained confidential information on his bank account, legal files and possibly other material during his tenure as Britain's finance minister.

    "My tax returns went missing at one point, medical records have been broken into," he said in the BBC television interview.

    I don't know how all this happened but I do know ... that in two of these instances there is absolute proof that News International was involved in hiring people to get this information.

    "And I do know also that the people that they work with are criminals, criminals with records, criminals who sometimes have records of violence as well as records of fraud."

    The scandal has highlighted the unparalleled political influence of Murdoch's collection of newspaper titles - and touched Cameron and his former communications chief, Andy Coulson, who was arrested last week in connection with allegations of payments to police when he was editor of the News of the World.

    The newspaper was closed down after its final edition on Sunday amid a flurry of public indignation over allegations it hacked into phones, including that of a murdered 13-year-old.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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