British and US lawmakers pile pressure on Murdoch

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British lawmakers were set to deal a body blow Wednesday to Rupert Murdoch's bid for pay-TV giant BSkyB, as the phone-hacking scandal rocking his media empire threatened to spill over to the United States.

In a rare show of unity in Britain's fractious parliament against the one-time kingmaker of British politics, the coalition government looked likely to back a motion being introduced by the opposition Labour party urging Murdoch to withdraw his bid for full control of the satellite broadcaster.

Meanwhile, US Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller warned Tuesday of "severe" consequences if it was found that the phone-hacking scandal rocking Murdoch's realm had spread to his US operations.

"I encourage the appropriate agencies to investigate to ensure that Americans have not had their privacy violated," Rockefeller said in a statement.

"I am concerned that the admitted phone hacking in London by the News Corp. may have extended to 9/11 victims or other Americans. If they did, the consequences will be severe," said Rockefeller, a Democrat.

Former British prime minister Gordon Brown earlier upped the pressure on Murdoch's empire, accusing it of hiring "criminals" to obtain his private documents and suggesting it used illegal methods to break the news of his son's illness.

The Sun on Wednesday vehemently denied the claims, splashing the headline "Brown wrong - We didn't probe son's medical records" across its front page in the first sign of a fightback by a Murdoch title.

The paper said it learnt about Fraser Brown's cystic fibrosis diagnosis from the father of a fellow sufferer and that it had obtained the ex-leader's permission to print the story.

British Prime Minister David Cameron met with deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and opposition leader Ed Miliband, shortly before his office said he would make a statement in parliament on Wednesday.

Cameron will announce that a judge-led inquiry into the crisis will be broadened to examine the relationship between the media and politicians, Sky News reported Tuesday.

Addressing Wednesday's non-binding vote to warn Murdoch against pursuing the BSkyB bid, a spokesman for Cameron said: "We are intending to support it".

The government referred the bid to competition authorities on Monday.

Murdoch flew to Britain on Sunday to take control of the crisis and on Tuesday he met with News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, who was News of the World editor at the time of some of the hacking, and other key figures.

Lawmakers took advantage of his presence to call on him, his son, News Corp. executive James Murdoch, and Brooks to appear to face questions about hacking and allegations that Murdoch papers paid police for information.

News Corp. announced a $5 billion stock repurchase plan on Tuesday after its shares lost 14.6 percent on Wall Street over the past week.

Murdoch is not the only one facing pressure from lawmakers.

Senior police officers were grilled by a committee on Tuesday about how an original probe into the News of the World in 2006, which resulted in the jailing of two people, failed to unearth a trove of further allegations.

The fresh claims, including that the tabloid hacked the voicemails of a murdered teenager and the relatives of dead soldiers, finally emerged last week and unleashed the public outrage that led to the demise of the paper.

Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner John Yates, who decided not to reopen the investigation in 2009, apologised to the victims but blamed News International for failing to hand over key evidence.

"The evidence that we should have had in 2005-6 and in 2009 has only recently been supplied by News International," he said, adding that the company had "clearly misled us".

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said he had found Yates "unconvincing".

A new police investigation was opened in January, and officers are now trawling through 11,000 documents seized from private detective Glen Mulcaire, who was jailed in 2007 as a result of the original investigation.

Former prime minister Brown also accused the Sunday Times, the News of the World's upmarket stablemate, of using con tricks to obtain bank details and legal documents relating to a flat he bought.

"I'm shocked, I'm genuinely shocked to find that this happened because of their links with criminals, known criminals who were undertaking this activity, hired by investigators who were working with the Sunday Times," he told the BBC.

News International later denied his claims following what it said was an internal inquiry.

The Sunday Times meanwhile "pursued the story (about the flat) in the public interest", it said, adding that "no criminal was used".

© 2011 AFP

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