August 16, 2022

A Top British Leader Urges Murdoch to Drop TV Deal

The developments deepened the fallout from The News of the World phone-hacking scandal which has been transformed from a long-simmering controversy into a full-blown crisis swirling around Mr. Murdoch’s British operation, News International, and its chief executive, Rebekah Brooks.

The furor erupted last week with reports that The News of the World, the top-selling Sunday tabloid in Mr. Murdoch’s British media empire, hacked into the voice mail of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old school-girl abducted and murdered in 2002, after she disappeared but before her body was found.

Such was the public outcry against the 168-year-old newspaper that Mr. Murdoch’s family ordered it closed after its final edition appeared on Sunday. Many commentators in Britain saw the closing of the paper as a move to cauterize the phone-hacking crisis and save the bid for the much more profitable British Sky Broadcasting.

Ms. Dowler’s parents met on Monday with Mr. Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrat junior partner in Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition government. The encounter cranked up pressure on Mr. Murdoch, who flew into London on Sunday to take charge of his company’s response to the crisis.

Mr. Clegg urged Mr. Murdoch to “look how people feel about this. Look how the country has reacted with revulsion to the revelations” about the phone-hacking scandal.

“Do the decent and sensible thing, and reconsider, think again about your bid for BSkyB,” Mr. Clegg said, referring to the satellite broadcaster by its initials.

In what seemed a further broadside against Mr. Murdoch and his lieutenants, a lawyer for the Dowler parents, Mark Lewis, added their voice to the chorus of calls for the resignation of Ms. Brooks, who was editor of The News of the World at the time of the hacking. Ms. Brooks is now the chief executive of News International, the British subsidiary of Mr. Murdoch’s News Corporation, and Mr. Murdoch has staunchly resisted calls for her to go.

The Dowlers “don’t see why she should stay in the job,” Mr. Lewis said. “They see this as something that went right to the top.”

“She was editor of The News of the World at the time that Milly was taken in 2002. She should take editorial responsibility,” Mr. Lewis said.

The takeover deal had already run into fresh trouble on Sunday when the opposition Labour Party promised to take its battle against the bid to a vote in the House of Commons — a step that, if successful, could deal a fatal blow to the bid.

In early trading on the London stock exchange on Monday, shares in British Sky Broadcasting retreated sharply as investors worried that the takeover deal — anticipation of which had pushed the share price up — would collapse. The stock fell 7.3 per cent early on Monday to 695 pence, or $11.12, compounding a slide from a level of 850 pence before the phone hacking scandal at The News of the World tabloid threw Mr. Murdoch’s British businesses into turmoil. The share price later recovered to around 709 pence — a decline of 5.5 per cent.

On Monday, British news reports said the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who is the minister responsible for the deal, was contacting both the Office of Fair Trading and the media regulator, Ofcom, to determine whether the bid could now be referred to competition authorities.

The contentious bid also seemed to be driving a wedge between Britain’s uneasy coalition partners, with Mr. Clegg’s Liberal Democrats saying they might side with the opposition Labour Party in the House of Commons.

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat Party president, told the BBC that, in principle, the party’s lawmakers could support a Labour motion critical of Mr. Murdoch’s ambitions. “I cannot see how, if a legally worded motion comes to the House opposing a further Murdoch takeover of BSkyB, I cannot see how Liberal Democrats would vote against that,” he said.

John F. Burns reported from London and Alan Cowell form Paris. Ravi Somaiya contributed reporting from London.

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