January 17, 2021

Cameron Tries to Shore Up Support in Hacking Scandal

And when the daylong political street fighting with the opposition Labour Party was done, he appeared to have at least steadied support within his own party and, perhaps as important, within the ranks of the Liberal Democrats, his nervous coalition partners.

The confrontation in the House of Commons — a day after appearances before a parliamentary committee by Rupert and James Murdoch, whose News of the World newspaper, now defunct, has been at the heart of the scandal — capped a difficult period in which the politically agile prime minister appeared to lose his normally assured demeanor, allowing Labour to get ahead of him in putting an end to the Murdochs’ bid for Britain’s top satellite television company.

Mr. Cameron flew back from a shortened trade trip to Africa on Tuesday and worked late into the night preparing for the showdown over revelations about the tabloid that have exposed cozy and sometimes corrupt relations among the press, politicians and the police, and that have crystallized into the most serious crisis of credibility and confidence of his 15 months in office.

As the eight-hour Commons showdown ended, the prime minister appeared to have quieted the worst anxieties in his Conservative Party, whose most powerful backbench group gave him a desk-banging thumbs up. Several Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, emerged from the session to say that the emphasis should be on reforms to rid Britain of the excesses of its tabloids, and not on efforts to topple Mr. Cameron, unless there were new disclosures implicating him in efforts to stifle the police investigation of the issue or to mislead Parliament.

Only a week ago, the Liberal Democrats seemed to be edging closer to an alternative compact with the Labour Party that could have threatened the government’s survival and its program of harsh spending cuts.

Still, with police inquiries into the affair accelerating, posing the potential for further revelations and arrests, Mr. Cameron may, at best, have only stalled the Labour onslaught that has sought to link him to the scandal through his close ties to Mr. Murdoch and two former editors of The News of the World, one of whom was Mr. Cameron’s communications chief for nine months.

After more than two weeks in which Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, outflanked Mr. Cameron at virtually every turn, the prime minister appeared to hit his stride, coupling incensed denials of personal wrongdoing in the affair with a new, hard-edged attitude toward his former media chief, Andy Coulson, one of 10 people linked to the Murdoch newspapers who has been arrested in the scandal.

Showing an edge of bitterness toward a man he was describing only days ago as a friend, Mr. Cameron said that “with 20-20 hindsight and all that has followed, I would not have offered the job, and I expect that he wouldn’t have taken it.”

“You live and you learn,” he added, “and, believe you me, I have learned.”

Mr. Cameron also took on Mr. Miliband, saying that most of the abuses now under investigation within the Murdoch newspapers took place when Labour was in power and that the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had taken no action on evidence that serious wrongdoing had occurred. He also said that Labour’s ties with Mr. Murdoch and his executives, and the party’s pursuit of Mr. Murdoch’s political favor, were more extensive than his own.

“I can assure the House that I’ve never held a slumber party or seen her in her pajamas,” Mr. Cameron said, referring to Rebekah Brooks, a onetime editor of The News of the World, who resigned as chief executive of News International, the paper’s parent company, late last week. The gibe referred to a gathering Mr. Brown’s wife held in 2008 at the prime minister’s country retreat, which British newspaper accounts have said was attended by Ms. Brooks; Mr. Murdoch’s wife, Wendi; and his daughter Elisabeth. A Daily Mail account said guests were told to bring their pajamas “for the sort of sleepover usually favoured by teenage girls.”

Mr. Cameron’s defense on Wednesday — and his continuing vulnerability — rested on two potentially explosive issues. First was why he hired Mr. Coulson only months after Mr. Coulson’s 2007 resignation as The News of the World’s editor, then took him to Downing Street, in the face of a flurry of private warnings, after the Conservatives won the May 2010 general election.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/21/world/europe/21hacking.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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