LONDON: News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch may personally get embroiled in the probe into the scandal involving his now defunct British tabloid the News of the World if it emerges that he knew about emails showing several of its journalists hacking mobile phones and making payments to police officers.
Murdoch’s UK subsidiary, News International, handed over the 2007 emails to police last week. The key question now is whether Les Hinton, one of Murdoch’s closest colleagues for 50 years, was aware of the emails in 2007, as a section of British media suspect he was. If that’s borne out, then Australia-born American media magnate would have been sure to know also.
It also emerged on Monday that the tabloid purchased royal family members’ personal contact details from a police officer deployed for their protection. In effect, Queen Elizabeth’s security was allegedly compromised. This is a serious offence under the UK law and anyone who knew about this and took no action is liable to prosecution and if found guilty likely to be imprisoned. This is apart from the serious criminality of tapping phones.
The tabloid hacked cell phones of a number of celebrities, including film stars, politicians and sports figures. The emails revealed the extent of hacking and also that the tabloid’s operatives reportedly deleted messages from a 13-year-old murder victim’s phone giving her parents false hope that she was still alive.
This particularly fuelled outrage and led to advertizers withdrawing ads forcing the 168-year-old tabloid’s closure.
News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch’s son, James, too, is in danger of facing charges in the UK and the US under prevention of corruption laws. James Murdoch is News International’s executive chairman and Star TV head in Asia and is said to have authorized at least one settlement running into hundreds of thousands of pounds to a victim of phone interception in exchange for signing a gagging agreement.
Murdoch Sr is currently in London on a damage-control exercise. He is also attempting to hold on to his UK chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, even as British prime minister David Cameron also called for her resignation. Opposition leader Ed Miliband described News International’s inaction as a “cover up on a massive scale”. He also demanded that New International’s multi-billion bid to wholly own BSkyB, Britain’s leading DTH operator, from its current holding of 39%, be halted. He found support from the ruling coalition when deputy PM and Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg urged Murdoch to withdraw his proposal.
Even Cameron of the pro-Murdoch Conservative party was forced on to the defensive, as UK government referred Murdoch’s request to the independent regulator Ofcom for an opinion on whether News International can be a “fit and proper” 100% owner of BSkyB, with no time limit for a response. PM is somewhat embroiled in the scandal as he employed editor of the paper under whose watch many of wrongdoings occurred.