Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Phone hacking: Tories join call over BSkyB bid

The Conservatives and Lib Dems are set to back a Labour motion urging Rupert Murdoch to withdraw his bid for BSkyB.

They will call on Mr Murdoch's News Corporation to do so in the "public interest" while alleged phone hacking at the News of the World is probed.

Prime Minister David Cameron is also set to detail the terms of a public inquiry into the hacking scandal.

In a Commons statement, he is expected to outline the remit of the judicial probe and possibly who will head it.

Labour says the unanimous support of MPs for News Corporation to pull out of a bid for the broadcaster will send a "clear message" to Mr Murdoch.

It comes after Mr Cameron met Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband at Downing Street to discuss the hacking scandal on Tuesday.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson is believed to have updated the three men on the current state of the police inquiry into hacking claims when he visited No 10.

'Broad scope'

The prime minister has conceded the need for a judge-led public inquiry into what took place at the News of the World, flaws in the initial police investigation and allegations of improper links between police and the newspapers.

He has also argued for a separate inquiry into the relationship between politicians and the press and the future of newspaper regulation.

Mr Miliband has urged him to go further, to start a single probe immediately - rather than awaiting the outcome of the police investigation - and for its terms of reference to be as wide as possible.

Start Quote

It is very important that we all come together in the national interest, send that message and hopefully Mr Murdoch will listen to the wishes of the House of Commons”

Ivan Lewis Shadow Culture Secretary

BBC political correspondent Vicki Young said Labour believed they had got everything they wanted out of Tuesday's meeting as both sides sought to appear on the front foot over the scandal.

Mr Cameron's statement is likely to follow prime minister's questions - which is set to be dominated by the issue - and precede an opposition day debate on News Corp's planned takeover of BSkyB.

Following fresh revelations about alleged malpractice at News International - News Corp's UK newspaper arm - Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt referred the company's bid to acquire the 61% of shares it does not already own in BSkyB to the Competition Commission.

But MPs want News Corp to pre-empt the regulator's inquiry - and Mr Hunt's final decision on whether to approve the deal - by agreeing to withdraw the bid.

'National interest'

Shadow Culture Secretary Ivan Lewis said he welcomed the backing of both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats for his party's motion.

Although the vote will not have an effect on the regulatory process, he said the support of all MPs would ramp up the pressure on Mr Murdoch to reconsider his position.

"The public will not understand it if the BSkyB deal were to go ahead without all the criminal matters that are currently under investigation being resolved," he said.

"It is very important that we all come together in the national interest, send that message and hopefully Mr Murdoch will listen to the wishes of the House of Commons."

Mr Lewis rejected suggestions Labour was pursuing a vendetta against News International - which switched its support from Labour to the Tories before the last election.

"This is not just about News International," he added. "It is also an issue that other newspapers in this country have to be honest about and have to come clean about."

The prime minister is also due to meet the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler - whose mobile phone was allegedly hacked into after her disappearance.

'Clearing names'
Sir Paul Stephenson leaving No 10 The Met's most senior officer visited Downing Street on Tuesday

The Commons Culture Committee has asked Mr Murdoch - who is in London to oversee the crisis, his son James and News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks to appear before it next Tuesday to answer questions about the News of the World's closure and the firm's internal inquiry.

Tory MP Louise Mensch, a member of the committee, said the Murdochs should show "leadership and courage" by agreeing to appear at the hearing.

Doing so would enable them to "clear their name and clear the name of their company", she told the BBC News Channel.

But she said it was naive to believe questionable practices were "confined" to News International.

"My concern is News Corporation does not become the bogeyman for what I believe is an industry-wide problem. This is widespread across British tabloids and has gone on for far too long."

News International has said it will "fully co-operate" with the committee but has not yet confirmed who, if anyone, will attend.

'Serious consequences'

Meanwhile, the Sun has defended itself against allegations it accessed former Prime Minister Gordon Brown's family medical records without his knowledge.

The paper, published by News International, said information that Mr Brown's son Fraser had cystic fibrosis came from a member of the public whose own child also had the condition.

The Sun has released a video of the man it says was the source of the story. The man's face is not revealed and his voice disguised to protect his identity.

In the US, Senate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller called for an investigation into whether phone hacking targeted any American citizens.

He said the authorities should consider whether journalists working for News Corp had broken US law.;

News Corp has announced plans to buy back $5bn (£3.2bn) of its shares in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

News Corp shares have fallen 14% since 4 July, wiping about $5bn off the company's value.

The group said in a statement it would increase an existing buy-back programme of about $1.8bn to $5bn.


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