UK parliament to urge Murdoch to drop BSkyB bid
London, July 13, 2011
The British parliament will back a motion on Wednesday urging Rupert Murdoch to drop plans to buy the whole of broadcaster BSkyB in a widening scandal over phone-hacking by one of his newspapers.
The opposition motion is not legally binding but the two parties in the ruling coalition say they will support it, reflecting public disgust over the scandal and breaking years of close ties between Murdoch and successive British governments.
The fallout threatened to spread to the United States, homebase of Murdoch's News Corp media empire which owns a clutch of prominent US media properties including The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and Fox Broadcasting.
US Senator John Rockefeller, chairman of the committee on commerce, science and transportation, called for an investigation to determine if News Corp had broken any US
Rockefeller said he was concerned that the phone hacking acknowledged in London by News Corp "may have extended to 9/11 victims or other Americans", in which case he said "the consequences will be severe".
British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron's decision to turn against Murdoch, intended partly to limit the damage the crisis has done to his own credibility, has increased doubts that the 80-year-old media magnate can secure the 61 percent of BSYB that News Corp does not own.
The Independent newspaper, which has been critical of Murdoch since the scandal broke, quoted ministers as saying privately that the takeover would be "politically dead" after the vote in parliament.
One government insider told the paper that the only way News Corp could complete the takeover of BSkyB would be to sell off his three remaining British newspapers -- The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times.
But Ian Whittaker, an analyst at Liberum Capital, said it was not clear the vote would create a substantially bigger problem for the bid, which would increase the US-based magnate's domination of British media and secure his pay-TV ambitions.
"It's non-binding, so it doesn't really make a bit of difference from that standpoint," Whittaker said.
Murdoch has closed down the top-selling News of the World tabloid to try to salvage the $14 billion bid for BSkyB. But public anger has risen over allegations that reporters at the paper hired investigators who hacked into the voicemails of thousands of people, including dead British soldiers and a schoolgirl who was abducted and later found dead. They also face accusations that they bribed police officers for information.
Murdoch, his son James and Rebekah Brooks, the former News of the World editor who is now chief executive at News International -- News Corp's British newspaper arm -- have been summoned to answer questions by a legislative parliamentary committee next week. As a US citizen, Murdoch need not attend.
News International has said it is cooperating with inquiries relaunched by police in January. It did not comment on Cameron's decision to vote for the Labour motion on Wednesday.
News Corp already has accepted a referral to the competition watchdog, which means a delay of many months for a deal which critics say would give Murdoch too much power in Britain. - Reuters