British regulator 'closely monitoring' hacking scandal

6th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

British media watchdog Ofcom warned Wednesday it is "closely monitoring" allegations of phone hacking at News Corp.'s News of the World tabloid and has a duty to probe whether broadcasters are "fit and proper."

Ofcom is advising the government's Culture and Media Minister Jeremy Hunt over a proposed deal by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. to buy the 61 percent of satellite broadcaster BSkyB that it does not already own.

News International, the British newspaper arm of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., faces a growing scandal at the News of the World amid claims it targeted relatives of murdered children and victims of the 2005 London bombings.

"In the light of the current public debate about phone hacking and other allegations, Ofcom confirms that it has a duty to be satisfied on an ongoing basis that the holder of a broadcasting licence is 'fit and proper'," Ofcom said in a statement.

"It is clearly not for Ofcom to investigate matters which properly lie in the hands of the police and the courts, however we are closely monitoring the situation and in particular the investigations by the relevant authorities into the alleged unlawful activities."

British Prime Minister David Cameron called for a public inquiry into the phone hacking scandal while main opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband has urged the government to delay its decision on the BSkyB deal.

Cameron insisted Wednesday that the affair should not affect the decision on whether News Corp. should proceed with its BSkyB bid.

In his first comment on the new twist in the scandal, Murdoch said allegations that News of the World staff had hacked phones were "deplorable and unacceptable" and that he was "committed to addressing these issues fully."

But the media mogul backed Rebekah Brooks to continue as chief executive of News International.

Last month, News Corp. -- which controls such major media outlets as Fox television and The Wall Street Journal -- moved closer to full control of BSkyB after the British government accepted its plans to spin off Sky News.

The sprawling US media giant pledged in March to hive off the rolling news channel to address competition concerns over its BSkyB bid.

In June 2010, News Corp. bid £7.8 billion ($12.5 billion, 8.6 billion euros) for full control of BSkyB. However, the British television giant, which screens live English Premier League football, is holding out for an improved offer.

News International's stable of British newspapers also includes The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times.

© 2011 AFP

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