UK media regulator Ofcom has been asked to look again at News Corp’s attempted buy-out of BSkyB, as deputy prime minister Nick Clegg urged Rupert Murdoch to abandon the move.
The News of the World (NotW), the News International tabloid at the centre of Britain’s phone hacking row, printed its last edition on Sunday.
News Corp deputy chief operating officer and News International chairman James Murdoch’s move to kill off the paper after 168 years was widely seen as an attempt to keep News Corp’s bid for BSkyB on track.
But Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrat half of the coalition government, has urged Murdoch and his father Rupert, News Corp’s chairman and CEO, to forget buying the satcaster.
He said: “Rupert Murdoch is now in town seeking to sort things out. I would simply say to him look how people feel about this, look at how the country has reacted with revulsion to the revelations. Do the decent and sensible thing and reconsider – think again about your bid for BSkyB.”
News Corp wants to buy the 60.9% of the UK satcaster that it does not already own, but the move had already attracted criticism over media plurality and competition long before allegations broke about the phone-hacking practices at the NotW.
In a statement last week, James Murdoch accepted personal responsibility for some of the wrongdoings, admitting that News International made statements to parliament about the hacking claims “without being in full possession of the facts.”
It had also emerged that investigators working for the NotW hacked into the voicemails of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and the families of victims of the 7/7 London terror attack, as well as those of politicians and celebrities.
All these revelations prompted prime minister David Cameron to leave the door open for media regulator Ofcom to intervene in the BSkyB deal.
On Friday, Cameron said it wasn’t for the prime minister of a country to say who is and is not a ‘fit and proper’ person or organisation to hold a broadcast licence.
Culture and media secretary Jeremy Hunt had looked set to allow the deal after News Corp agreed to sell off the Sky News element of BSkyB. However, he has now written to Ofcom to ask if the new allegations about phone hacking, incorrect statements to parliament and illegal payments to police officers by the NotW had changed its position.
Hunt has asked Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading to look again at three key aspects of the deal.
These include whether the closure of the NotW and the events surrounding it raise any additional concerns about the plurality of UK media should BSkyB be wholly owned by News Corp.
Hunt has also asked whether the allegations affect News Corp’s status as a fit and proper owner of the country’s biggest pay-TV platform. And finally, he asked Ofcom whether it was still confident about promises made by News Corp about the takeover, and whether the regulator’s advice on the takeover has changed.
Opposition leader Ed Milliband, of the Labour Party, has urged the government to refer the bid to the Competition Commission and has called for the deal to be put on hold during criminal investigations into the affair. Milliband said his party will force a parliamentary vote this Wednesday if the government doesn’t act.
Milliband today said there was no way the government could continue with its current process of judging the takeover, as it relied too heavily on assurances from News Corp.
The NotW closure could mean 200 staff will lose their jobs but News International CEO Rebekah Brooks, who edited the paper when the phone hacking was carried out, remains in position.
Rupert Murdoch told reporters on Sunday that Brooks was his first priority, before taking her out to dinner.