Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp on Wednesday withdrew a contentious bid to take over BSkyB, Britain’s biggest pay-tv broadcaster, as fuming politicians united in turning against the media baron over allegations of corruption and telephone-hacking at his British newspapers.
Murdoch’s move was every bit as remarkable as last week’s closure of its best-selling newspaper, the News of the World, whose staff and editors are alleged to have bribed police for information and listened in on the voicemails of celebrities, royals, murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and families of wardead and terror-victims.
News Corp was bidding to increase its current 39% controlling stake in BSkyB to 100% but the move was bitterly opposed by MPs cutting across political lines.
The company announcement came just after a stormy debate in the British parliament, with deputy chairman Chase Carey saying: “We believed that the proposed acquisition of BSkyB by News Corporation would benefit both companies but it has become clear that it is too difficult to progress in this climate.”
Television is central to News Corp’s growth strategy, and the company is free to renew its offer at a future date. At the moment, however, the public mood in Britain is downright hostile.
During the debate, Prime Minister David Cameron — smarting over accusations of being too close to Murdoch’s senior executives — declared: “This business should not be focused on mergers and takeovers, but on clearing up the mess and getting their house in order.” “There is a firestorm that is engulfing parts of the media, parts of the police, and indeed our political system’s ability to respond,” he said.
The British premier also announced a public enquiry, headed by a senior judge, to look into the wrongdoing of the press and police, followed by a full review of self-regulation in the press. The inquiry will have powers to summon witnesses including newspaper reporters, management, proprietors, policemen and politicians of all parties.
Alongside the government’s ministerial code was being tightened so all ministers would have to record meetings with senior journalists and media executives.