British PM, victims welcome Murdoch climbdown

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British politicians and victims of the phone hacking scandal welcomed News Corp.'s announcement on Wednesday that it had withdrawn its offer for British satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

The decision came shortly before parliament was due to debate a motion tabled by opposition leader Ed Miliband urging Rupert Murdoch's company to withdraw the offer because of phone hacking at his News of the World tabloid.

Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman led the way, saying: "We welcome the news. As the prime minister has said, the business should focus on clearing up the mess and getting its own house in order."

Miliband said: "This is a victory for people up and down this country who have been appalled by the revelations of the phone hacking scandal and the failure of News International to take responsibility.

"People thought it was beyond belief that Mr Murdoch could continue with his takeover after these revelations. It is these people who won this victory. They told Mr Murdoch: 'This far and no further'.

"Nobody should exercise power in this country without responsibility."

The scandal that started at News of the World, one of four British papers owned by Murdoch's News International, had spread in the past week into a national row, and he closed the title last week to try to stem the crisis.

The final blow came when Cameron said he would back a parliamentary motion Wednesday calling on News Corp to withdraw its offer for BSkyB.

Former Labour deputy prime minister Lord Prescott, who believes his phone was hacked by the News of the World during his time in power, welcomed News Corp.'s announcement.

"BSkyB bid over. PCC (Press Complaints Commission, the self-regulatory body) to be abolished. Senior News International staff arrested. Inquiry into police and press on its way. Yep. I'm happy," he said in a Twitter posting.

The scandal spiralled when it emerged that not only had the News of the World been hacking the voicemails of poilticians and celebrities but also of murdered teenager and the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

Mark Lewis, the lawyer representing the family of Milly Dowler, the 13-year-old murder victim whose phone was allegedly hacked and her messages deleted shortly after she went missing in 2002, also welcomed the news.

"It's an earth-shattering week for everyone concerned, for the Dowler family to know that actually the politicians and the people and the public would be behind them so much to say 'look enough is enough, this is too much press intrusion, too much power for one organisation and people have to stop and listen'," Lewis said.

He added: "Like most scandals, this wasn't about the scandal itself, the malign conduct, it was about the attempts to cover it up. And when people cover up things, they are not fit and proper to run something."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said News Corp.'s decision was the "decent and sensible thing to do".

"Now that the bid has been called off and a proper inquiry set up, we have a once-in-a-generation chance to clean up the murky underworld and the corrupted relationship between the police, politics and the press," he said.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes added that with the closure of the News of the World and the now the halted expansion into pay TV, "at last the sun is setting on Rupert Murdoch's British empire".

Earlier, Cameron announced that a judge-led public inquiry into phone hacking would look at practices at the News of the World as well as issues of media ethics, regulation and relationships between newspaper owners and politicians.

He also called for senior executives at News International to take responsibility for the crisis.

© 2011 AFP

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