Rupert Murdoch’s media empire was rocked by fresh allegations of a string of phone-hackings on Wednesday, prompting the British government to order inquiries while rejecting calls to review a bid by Murdoch to take over the British broadcaster BSkyB.
In what is being described as one of Britain’s biggest media scandals, News of the World (NoW), a popular investigative tabloid owned by Murdoch’s News Corp, is alleged to have been involved in a series of phone hackings of not only celebrities, but also ordinary victims of crime.
Prime Minister David Cameron promised to order independent public inquiries after revelations that detectives working for the paper may have hacked into the phones of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl who was abducted and killed in 2002; the family of one of two 10-year-old girls who were murdered in the village of Soham in 2002; and the family of a victim of the 7/7 suicide bombings that killed 52 people in London on July 7, 2005.
“It is absolutely disgusting, what has taken place, and I think everyone in this House and indeed this country will be revolted by what they have heard and what they have seen on their television screens,” Cameron told the British parliament, echoing the national mood.But he resisted strong calls by opposition Labour party leader Ed Miliband to refer a controversial bid by News Corp to increase its 39% stake in BSkyB to 100% in a deal that could be worth more than £9 billion.
Cameron stripped Business Secretary Vince Cable of powers to decide on the News Corp bid earlier this year after a newspaper close to Cameron’s Conservative party covertly recorded him saying he had “declared war on Murdoch.” Cable had recommended that the takeover bid be referred to the Competition Commission — a call repeated by Miliband on Wednesday.
Miliband also called for the resignation of former NoW editor Brooks, who is now chief executive of News International, the News Corps unit looking after Murdoch’s British newspapers. Both Cameron and his Labour predecessor Gordon Brown attended the wedding reception of Brooks in 2009.
In 2003, Brooks told MPs that her paper had paid police money for information – and the BBC said on Wednesday the amount could run into tens of thousands of pounds.
The News International is already the subject of a major police investigation into earlier allegations of phone hackings.
Andy Coulson, another former NoW editor, was hired by Cameron as his media spokesman but resigned his job in January following the allegations.