Murdoch faces calls for British media empire break-up

17th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Rupert Murdoch faced calls Sunday for the break-up of his British empire despite issuing a second public apology for the phone-hacking scandal that has gone to the heart of the establishment.

The media baron's latest attempt to atone for the crisis spawned by the News of the World fell on deaf ears as opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband called for new ownership laws to dismantle his British media interests.

Britain's top police officer meanwhile came under renewed pressure over his links to Murdoch's executives, adding to concerns about the Australian-born magnate's influence in the corridors of power.

Miliband told The Observer that politicians should look at the situation, saying: "I think it's unhealthy because that amount of power in one person's hands has clearly led to abuses of power within his organisation."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, of the Liberal Democrats, also said he wanted more "plurality" in the British media, although he suggested that any action should wait until the results of a judge-led inquiry into the scandal.

"We do need to look again, in the round, at the plurality rules, to make sure there is proper plurality in the British press. A healthy press is a diverse one," he told the BBC.

Clegg said Murdoch must "come absolutely clean" when he, his son and heir apparent James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, former head of his British newspaper wing News International, face questions from lawmakers this week.

In the past week, Murdoch has closed the News of the World tabloid, abandoned his offer for control of pay-TV giant BSkyB and let go two top executives, Brooks and Dow Jones chief Les Hinton, in a bid to control the crisis.

But the scandal has grown and Murdoch has this weekend taken out full-page adverts in most of Britain's national newspapers apologising.

After an ad saying "We are sorry" and signed by Murdoch appeared on Saturday, another version entitled "Putting right what's gone wrong" appeared in Sunday's newspapers on behalf of News International.

It promised to fully cooperate with police investigating the hacking, provide compensation for those targeted and clean up its act in future, adding: "There are no excuses and there should be no place to hide."

Other British newspapers launched a bid to win the News of the World's 7.5 million readers, with the right-leaning mid-market Mail on Sunday dropping its price to £1 (1.14 euros, 1.61 dollars).

The Murdoch empire's links to the British establishment came under fresh scrutiny in the British media on Sunday.

John Whittingdale, the head of the parliamentary committee that will grill Murdoch this Tuesday, defended himself over reports that he was a Facebook "friend" of Brooks, Hinton and Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth.

But he admitted having dinner with Brooks and said he was an old friend of Hinton.

News International's ties with the police have also emerged in more detail, as Scotland Yard revealed that Commissioner Paul Stephenson met its executives and editors 18 times socially between 2006 and 2010.

Scotland Yard has faced fierce criticism for failing to unearth information on thousands of victims when the phone hacking allegations first emerged in 2005.

Stephenson was linked to former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis in media reports Sunday, which said the police chief accepted a five-week stay earlier this year at a luxury health spa where Wallis worked as a PR consultant.

The force is already facing questions about why it hired Wallis as an advisor just two months after he quit the tabloid. Wallis was arrested last week over the phone hacking scandal.

A police spokesman strongly denied any wrongdoing, saying Stephenson's meals and accommodation were provided by the spa's managing director, a personal friend, while he was recovering from a serious operation.

Prime Minister David Cameron was also forced on the defensive after it emerged that he personally had 26 meetings in 15 months with key figures in Murdoch's News Corp. and its British newspaper division, News International.

Cameron hosted Brooks and James Murdoch at his country retreat, Chequers.

Foreign Secretary William Hague also defended Cameron's decision to invite Andy Coulson, his former media chief and another one-time editor of the News of the World tabloid, Chequers in March, two months after Coulson quit Downing Street.

Coulson was arrested last week in connection with the scandal.

The phone hacking scandal is also being investigated by the US FBI.

© 2011 AFP

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