British MPs poised to tell Murdoch to back off

July 13th, 2011 by Staff

www.thehindu.com – British legislators were poised on Wednesday to demand that Rupert Murdoch give up on his ambition of taking over a lucrative broadcaster as the fallout from a phone hacking and bribery scandal at his U.K. newspapers forced politicians to act.

But a defiant mood was evident at one of his papers, The Sun tabloid, which slapped the headline “Brown Wrong” across its front page in response to claims by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown that the paper had obtained confidential medical records of his younger son.

In an about-face, Prime Minister David Cameron has put his party’s weight behind an opposition Labour Party motion up for a vote on Wednesday that declares that bidding for full control of British Sky Broadcasting would not be in the national interest.

The motion doesn’t carry legal force, but with the three main parties in support it looms as a powerful expression of the tide running against Mr. Murdoch’s newspapers.

Mr. Murdoch’s hope to gain control of the 61 per cent of BSkyB shares that his News Corp. doesn’t own already have been delayed for several months while the Competition Commission reviews monopoly concerns.

Outrage has grown and Mr. Murdoch’s News Corp.’s share price has fallen since a report last week that The News of the World hacked the phone of teenage murder victim Milly Dowler, followed by claims of intrusion into private records by The Sun and The Sunday Times.

Mr. Brown accused Murdoch’s papers, including The Sun and The Sunday Times, of obtaining his confidential bank accounts, tax records and even health information about his son, Fraser, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, using fraudulent, criminal means. But, the newspaper insisted it learned of the boy’s ailment from the father of another child with the same condition, and that it contacted the Browns, who consented to the story.

“We are not aware of Mr. Brown nor any of his colleagues to whom we spoke, making any complaint about it at the time,” The Sun said.

Its coverage included picture of Mr. Brown and Mr. Murdoch standing together, both grinning.

Mr. Murdoch’s News International responded to his accusations by asking Mr. Brown for any information that would help to investigate them.

In Washington, Senator Jay Rockefeller urged an investigation into whether Mr. Murdoch’s U.K. newspapers had violated U.S. law.

If there was any hacking of phones belonging to 9/11 victims or other Americans, “the consequences will be severe,” said Mr. Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

The suggestion that 9/11 victims may have been were targeted surfaced on Monday in the Mirror, a British competitor of The Sun. It quoted an anonymous source as saying an unidentified American investigator who rejected approaches from unidentified journalists who showed a particular interest in British victims.

Police in the U.K. are pursuing two investigations of News International, one on phone hacking and the other on allegations that the News of the World bribed police officers for information.

Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, urged News International to come clean about any such payments.

“Let’s not play around with legal games here- If they have names, dates, times, places, payments to officers, we would like to see them so that we can lock these officers up and throw away the key,” Mr. Orde said in an interview with British Broadcasting radio.

Police officials have indicated that the bribery investigations involves about half a dozen officers.


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