July 13, 2024

Lawmakers to Call Murdoch to Testify in Hacking Case

LONDON — Rupert Murdoch’s once-commanding influence in British politics seemed to dwindle to a new low on Tuesday, when all three major parties in Parliament joined in support of a sharp rebuke to his ambitions and a parliamentary committee said it would call him, along with two other top executives, to testify publicly next week about the growing scandal enveloping his media empire.

Mr. Murdoch has been struggling to complete a huge, contentious takeover deal that still needs regulatory approval, the $12 billion acquisition of the shares in British Sky Broadcasting that his company does not already own. In an effort to save that deal from the scandal’s fallout, Mr. Murdoch has already shut down the tabloid at the heart of the scandal, The News of the World. But the accusations have spread to other papers in his News International group, and have taken in an ever wider and more outrage-provoking list of victims.

The House of Commons is scheduled to vote on Wednesday on a motion declaring that “it is in the public interest for Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation to withdraw their bid for BSkyB,” a motion pushed by the opposition Labour Party that the governing Conservatives decided on Tuesday to support. The Conservatives’ coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, have been vocal in their condemnation of Mr. Murdoch and his executives. With the three parties holding more than 600 of the 650 seats in the house, the motion is expected to be approved overwhelmingly.

Though it would have little direct effect, the motion represents a powerful political headwind blowing against the deal and against Mr. Murdoch, a figure so powerful in Britain that until the current scandal, politicians and others in public life have rarely risked invoking his ire. And it threatened to undercut a last-ditch step that the News Corporation took on Monday, when it withdrew promises it had made to satisfy antitrust concerns about the deal, most notably that Sky News, the target company’s 24-hour news channel, would be spun off.

Before the scandal flared up, the Conservative government had shown readiness to waive a formal antitrust review of the deal, based on those promises. A regulatory review would now not just delay the deal for months, but may kill it.

A parliamentary committee said Tuesday that it would call Mr. Murdoch, his son James and Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International, to testify next week about accusations of phone hacking and corruption at the News International papers. John Whittingdale, chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said it would seek to determine “how high up the chain” knowledge of the newsroom malpractices in the Murdoch newspapers went.

New and alarming charges came on Tuesday from the former prime minister Gordon Brown, who said that one of the most prestigious newspapers in the group, The Sunday Times, employed “known criminals” to gather personal information on his bank account, legal files and tax affairs.

Those charges centered on suggestions that The Sunday Times and The Sun, a Murdoch tabloid, used subterfuge to learn in 2006 that Mr. Brown’s infant son, Fraser, had cystic fibrosis, a fact that generated a Sun scoop.

The two papers responded with statements denying wrongdoing. The Sun said it had not accessed the child’s medical records and did not “commission anyone to do so.” Instead, it said, the article originated “from a member of the public whose family has also experienced cystic fibrosis.”

“He came to The Sun with this information voluntarily, because he wanted to highlight the cause of those afflicted by the disease,” the newspaper said.

The Sunday Times said it had “pursued the story in the public interest” and had followed Britain’s press code “on using subterfuge.” “No law was broken in the process of this investigation,” it said.

A separate parliamentary committee investigating years of indecisive police investigations into The News of the World’s rampant phone-hacking operations spent hours on Tuesday grilling police officers who led the inquiries.

John F. Burns and Don Van Natta Jr. reported from London, and Alan Cowell from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Jo Becker, Ravi Somaiya, and Graham Bowley from London, and J. David Goodman from New York.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/13/world/europe/13hacking.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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