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Did Cameron's dinner with Murdoch break ministers' code?

By Andrew Grice and Nigel Morris

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Independent

David Cameron was challenged last night to explain why he held a secret dinner with James Murdoch as the Government prepared to take a crucial decision on the Murdoch media empire.

The Labour Opposition questioned whether Mr Cameron had broken the ministerial code of conduct by meeting the chairman of News Corporation in Europe and Asia only a few days after stripping Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, of the power to decide whether News Corp should be allowed to buy the 61 per cent of BSkyB it does not already own.

The move came as the Government faced all-party pressure over its links with Rupert Murdoch despite last week's resignation of Andy Coulson, the Downing Street director of communications, over the continuing controversy about telephone hacking at Mr Murdoch's News of the World, which cost Mr Coulson his job as the paper's editor in 2007.

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrats' deputy leader, is expected to pursue legal action against News International over his phone being hacked rather than accept an out-of-court settlement. He is due to meet his lawyers to make a final decision shortly. He told the Commons last September that while he defended freedom of the press, "this [phone hacking] is abuse and illegality. It has to end, and we must be robust about it."

Friends of Mr Hughes said he had little interest in an out-of-court settlement and was likely to press ahead with court action. They said the MP dealt with many highly sensitive constituency cases and was appalled by the prospect that information concerning them could have been compromised.

Today the all-party Commons Home Affairs Select Committee may decide to hold a new round of public hearings into allegations that phone tapping was rife. Amid protests that Scotland Yard failed properly to investigate allegations about the News of the World, it is also considering whether the police take hacking seriously enough. If the committee decides to hold hearings, it would be likely to summon members of the paper's former staff, including Mr Coulson, to give evidence.

The Independent revealed yesterday that Mr Cameron met James Murdoch at the Oxfordshire home of Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International. The private dinner she hosted took place shortly before Christmas.

In a letter to the Prime Minister last night, Ivan Lewis, the shadow Culture Secretary, asked him five questions, including: "Can you clarify whether you discussed News Corp's bid for BSkyB with Mr [James] Murdoch?"

Mr Lewis said: "David Cameron's decision to attend this dinner with James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in the middle of a quasi-judicial process raises serious questions about his judgment. The integrity of our media is central to our democracy. That is why his answers are of significant public interest."

Tory sources dismissed Labour's challenge, insisting that the social event would not be covered by the ministerial code. They said the BSkyB takeover would not have been discussed and that the meeting was not improper in any way because all prime ministers met newspaper proprietors.

Mr Cameron and Rupert Murdoch are both due to attend the Davos World Economic Forum this weekend. Downing Street refused to be drawn on whether their paths would cross, although Tory sources said no meeting between the two men was scheduled.

Newscorp's bid for Sky

James Murdoch, the European chairman of News Corporation, is desperate to avoid a Competition Commission inquiry into his company's bid for the 61 per cent of Sky it does not already own. He fears any delay to the deal could see NewsCorp end up having to pay much more than the £7.5bn it has offered.

However, Ofcom, the media regulator, has already said it thinks the Commission should investigate. The decision now rests solely in the hands of Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, given the role by David Cameron when the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, was caught making partial remarks about the Murdochs.

Mr Hunt says he is acting independently and that he will make his decision purely on legal grounds. He has the power to refer the deal to the Commission if he accepts Ofcom's view that a NewsCorp takeover of Sky might damage the plurality of Britain's media, a more subjective test than the competition hurdles the deal has already cleared with European Union regulators.

If he does not do so, or comes to an arrangement with NewsCorp that sees it make concessions in return for avoiding an inquiry, there will be a storm of protest about the neutrality of Conservative ministers – and almost certainly a legal challenge.

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Rupert Murdoch cancels Davos visit to negotiate over Sky buyout

Murdoch's News Corporation has offered 'undertakings' of independence for Sky News which the culture secretary is considering

by Dan Sabbagh

guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 25 January 2011 21.50 GMT

Rupert Murdoch today chose to cancel his visit to the Davos global economic summit in order to personally lead negotiations with the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, in an effort to get News Corporation's £8bn buyout of Sky approved by offering guarantees to safeguard Sky News's independence.

Yesterday morning Hunt said he considered that News Corporation's buyout of the 61% of BSkyB it did not already own might "operate against the public interest in media plurality"; for that reason he intended to refer the matter to the Competition Commission.

But in a surprise move, the culture secretary said he would consider an undertaking from News Corp that the company "could sufficiently alleviate the concerns" he had, allowing him to accept its undertakings rather than make a reference to the commission.

It is understood that any promises made by News Corp would concern an offering of editorial guarantees on the independence of Sky News, although the former refuses to contemplate a sale of the 24-hour channel.

The move sets the stage for several weeks of direct negotiation between Hunt, who will be advised by the Office of Fair Trading, and News Corporation at a time when Murdoch is in London. Hunt's team said that its decision was motivated by a desire to be seen to be fair to all parties, and avoid a legal challenge by News Corp or the alliance of newspapers, including the Guardian, that has opposed the bid.

But critics argued that it made it easier for Hunt to reach an agreement with Murdoch. Claiming that Hunt should simply heed the advice of Ofcom, Ivan Lewis, the shadow culture, media and sport secretary, said: "The right thing to do is to refer the bid to the Competition Commission … instead [he] has chosen an unprecedented course of action, which raises further doubts about the integrity of the process."

But Don Foster, the senior Liberal Democrat MP who was the party's frontbench culture spokesman in the last parliament, praised Hunt's handling of the matter.

Foster said: "I genuinely believe that Jeremy Hunt has adhered strictly to the rules that are laid down in the enterprise act to deal with these matters and that we must now await the comments from Ofcom to the mitigation proposals from News Corp. That is the correct procedure and it would be wrong to suggest otherwise."

"Ofcom can come to two conclusions. They can say that News Corp have come up with good ideas that may solve the plurality problem. There would then have to be widespread consultation on these. If Ofcom says it does not think News Corp's ideas would have a major benefit then I would expect the secretary of state to refer the matter to the Competition Commission."

Ofcom concluded a combination, with Sky, of News Corporation's newspapers, the Sun and Times, would give the company a 22% share of news consumption in the UK. That would put it second only to the BBC, which accounts for 37%, and well in excess of the 10% held by ITN, which supplies news to ITV and Channel 4.

News Corp hit back at Ofcom's analysis, saying, in a 216-page rebuttal, that it believed Ofcom had failed to consider the Murdoch bid "with an open mind".

The company also said it believed the entire regulatory process was "seriously flawed" because the decision to refer the bid to Ofcom was made by Vince Cable, the business secretary, who was stripped of his role in overseeing it when he told Telegraph journalists before Christmas that he had "declared war on Murdoch".

News Corp, it emerged, had also demanded that Ofcom release all the correspondence it had with Cable and his department, in what was widely seen as an evidence-gathering exercise in advance of any judicial review should the company fail to get what it wanted.

Ofcom published the letters, although regulatory sources insisted they "showed nothing interesting". An Ofcom spokesman hit back at News Corp, saying the regulator stood by its report, "a rigorous, thorough and independent assessment of the issues". The spokesman added: "News Corporation's response makes … assertions of purported errors by Ofcom in its report. Ofcom entirely rejects this analysis and we refer to our report for a clear, accurate and independent assessment of the public interest issues."

News Corp, however, said it had won on two points. Ofcom concluded, insiders said, that media plurality amounted only to the choice and provision of news; and the regulator set aside worries about whether News Corp newspapers could enjoy an unfair advantage if they were "bundled" in with a Sky subscription, whether in print or online.

The regulator also admitted that it was unable to consider how News Corp and the fast-growing Sky would behave in the future, saying that there was "no mechanism" for the regulator to consider what might occur in the future.

In a joint statement, BT and the companies behind the Guardian, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and Daily Telegraph said it was a matter of regret that the secretary of state had "not followed the advice of the independent regulator". The group added: "The process outlined today is unprecedented. We are particularly concerned that parties other than News Corporation will not have the opportunity to put forward their case until after the secretary of state has come to a decision on proposed remedies

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Police have launched a fresh investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World after receiving "significant new information", Scotland Yard has said. This evidence concerns the emails of the former head of news at the newspaper, Ian Edmondson on Tuesday following an internal inquiry. The new inquiry will be moved from the Met Police's counter terrorism command to the specialist crime directorate. At the moment there is no news of an investigation into the relationship between the police and Rubert Murdoch.

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Police have launched a fresh investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World after receiving "significant new information", Scotland Yard has said. This evidence concerns the emails of the former head of news at the newspaper, Ian Edmondson on Tuesday following an internal inquiry. The new inquiry will be moved from the Met Police's counter terrorism command to the specialist crime directorate. At the moment there is no news of an investigation into the relationship between the police and Rubert Murdoch.

This is the statement from Scotland Yard:

The Met has today received significant new information relating to allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World in 2005/06. As a result, the Met is launching a new investigation to consider this material.

This work will be carried out by the specialist crime directorate which has been investigating a related phone hacking allegation since September 2010.

Discussions have taken place with the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to the recently announced role of Alison Levitt QC.

It has been agreed that her task will continue and she will evaluate any new evidence and advise as to the progress of the investigation.

The original phone hacking investigation was undertaken by the counter terrorism command in specialist operations.

However, in view of their current workload and the continuing 'severe' threat level, it has been agreed that it is no longer appropriate to divert them or Acting Deputy Commissioner John Yates from their main duties and responsibilities.

Accordingly, this new investigation will be led by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers from the specialist crime directorate. We will not be making any further comments at this stage.

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Oliver Wright: New light is shed on the timing of Coulson's exit

It is one thing to find more hacking at the NOTW, but quite another to find it at The Sun. And that worries Murdoch

The Independent

Thursday, 27 January 2011

When Andy Coulson announced he was stepping down as David Cameron's director of communications, the rest of the Downing Street spin operation went into overdrive.

Senior advisers patrolled the lobbies of the House of Commons briefing journalists that it was wrong to suggest there were new allegations that had led to his departure. He had simply had enough of the pressure, they said.

Last night the dam burst. Only two working days have passed between Mr Coulson's departure and News International's "discovery" of "significant new evidence" on the phone hacking at the News of the World which it has now passed to police.

Related articles

•Phone hacking: the next turn of the screw

•Ian Burrell: So much for the theory of a 'rogue reporter'

This is despite News International being aware of the phone-hacking allegations for more than five years. Mr Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, News International's chief executive, are not just former colleagues but they are still extremely close friends.

Mr Coulson owes David Cameron his comeback from disgrace, and it would be strange for him to intentionally keep information from him. Rebekah Brooks herself is close to Cameron – as their Christmas-dinner soirée in Oxfordshire (with James Murdoch also at the table) illustrated.

It doesn't take a conspiracy theorist to join up the dots. So what will be next?

It is clear News International's strategy has changed. Previously it attempted to put up a firewall between itself and Clive Goodman – the only News International journalist to have been convicted of phone hacking – claiming he was one "rogue reporter". It now appears to be admitting that hacking was more widespread.

But don't assume this is a Damascene conversion to openness; it may simply be another firewall. Ian Edmondson has been thrown to the wolves and at some point the company may start admitting guilt in the hacking cases queueing up to be heard at the High Court. And that, it will hope, will be that.

But what worries executives at the company is that the hacking allegations may spread to The Sun, where Ms Brooks was editor at the same time Andy Coulson was at the News of the World.

Talk to any journalist working for a tabloid newspaper at that time and they will tell you quietly that "everybody was doing it" and editors knew about the technique even if they did not know the specifics. Now the police – themselves under fire for their previous lacklustre inquiries – are about to start a fresh investigation under a new boss.

And that's what is worrying Rupert Murdoch. It is one thing to find more phone hacking at the News of the World – quite another to find evidence of phone hacking at The Sun. Especially at a time when he is asking the Government to allow him to buy out BSkyB.

Finally, for the political classes – who themselves suffered the ignominy of the coppers' "knock on the door" over expenses and cash for honours – these latest revelations have resulted in more than a touch of Schadenfreude. Apart from Mr Cameron that is.

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This is the statement from Scotland Yard:

The Met has today received significant new information relating to allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World in 2005/06. As a result, the Met is launching a new investigation to consider this material.

This new information was provided as a result of a fresh News of the World investigation. It includes the recovery of emails of Ian Edmondson. This raises the question why these emails were not found during the first investigation by the newspaper. Why was Ian Edmondson not interviewed by the police during their investigation (his name appeared on documents recovered from the private detective hacking the phones on behalf of Murdoch)? This case reveals corruption at the very top of the Metropolitan Police. The man who oversaw the original investigation and carried out the phoney review of the case, was John Yates, assistant commissioner. He also was in charge of the bungled Tony Blair, cash-for-honours investigation.

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This is the statement from Scotland Yard:

The Met has today received significant new information relating to allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World in 2005/06. As a result, the Met is launching a new investigation to consider this material.

This new information was provided as a result of a fresh News of the World investigation. It includes the recovery of emails of Ian Edmondson. This raises the question why these emails were not found during the first investigation by the newspaper. Why was Ian Edmondson not interviewed by the police during their investigation (his name appeared on documents recovered from the private detective hacking the phones on behalf of Murdoch)? This case reveals corruption at the very top of the Metropolitan Police. The man who oversaw the original investigation and carried out the phoney review of the case, was John Yates, assistant commissioner. He also was in charge of the bungled Tony Blair, cash-for-honours investigation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TevfYqbFHS4&feature=player_embedded

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Phone-hacking scandal hits Murdoch business as investors grow restless

Storm surrounding News of the World threatens to engulf global empire, with investors worrying row is threat to BSkyB deal

By Jamie Doward and Paul Harris in New York

guardian.co.uk, Saturday 29 January 2011 20.31 GMT

Rupert Murdoch has extended his stay in London to deal with the phone-hacking crisis.

Many people in the UK will not have heard of Prince al-Waleed bin Talal. But perhaps they should have done. The prince has a lot of money invested in the UK and wields considerable, albeit discreet, influence.

The 55-year-old nephew of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah is a multibillionaire who, through his investment company, Kingdom Holdings, has taken large chunks of companies as diverse as the Savoy Hotel Group and London's Canary Wharf.

Bin Talal's power stems from his unique position. He is one of the few people who can tap the giant Saudi sovereign funds for money, so his every word is analysed forensically by the markets.

Last week, though, it is likely that the prince, described by Time magazine as "the Arabian Warren Buffett", was devoting more than a passing interest to his almost 7% share in Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, quietly accumulated over several years.

The prince cannot have liked what he saw. What had started out as a very British row over phone hacking by reporters working on Murdoch's News of the World had become infectious and was in danger of going global.

As scores of new victims emerged to allege they had been hacked by the newspaper, MPs voiced fresh concerns at the police handling of the affair and the role played by senior executives at News International, News Corp's UK subsidiary and the ultimate parent company of the News of the World, the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times.

Meanwhile, back across the Atlantic, it emerged that News Corp was facing another problem. Last week 400 rabbis from all the main branches of Judaism in the US bought a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal, calling on Murdoch to take sanctions against News Corp's Fox News subsidiary. The rabbis were incensed at the way that Fox commentators regularly referred to those with whom they disagreed as "Nazis".

"You diminish the memory and meaning of the Holocaust when you use it to discredit any individual or organisation you disagree with. That is what Fox News has done in recent weeks," the ad read.

The placement of the ad was even more poignant and shocking as it was published on Holocaust Remembrance Day. It came partly in response to comments by Murdoch's brash Fox News leader, Roger Ailes, who had compared executives at National Public Radio to Nazis after they sacked a commentator who made ill-advised remarks about being scared of flying with Muslims.

But it also focused on the most controversial figure in the pantheon of Fox News personalities: Glenn Beck. Fox's biggest star repeatedly uses Nazi and Hitler references to describe figures he does not like.

Deborah Lipstadt, professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, has been especially vocal in attacking Beck's tactics. "I haven't heard anything like this on television or radio – and I've been following this kind of stuff. I've been in the sewers of antisemitism and Holocaust denial more often than I've wanted," she said.

Those familiar with bin Talal, who has given tens of millions of dollars to charities seeking to bridge gaps between western and Islamic communities, say he will have been dismayed by any whiff of controversy threatening his business interests.

"He is an incredibly intelligent man and deeply honourable; you can only speculate about what he must be thinking now," said an acquaintance.

Coming at a time when News Corp wants regulatory approval to take over British satellite broadcaster BSkyB, both the phone-hacking scandal and the row with the rabbis are damaging not only to the company's reputation but its bottom line.

Liberal commentators have used both to question whether Murdoch should be allowed to own more of the British media landscape.

Murdoch must have hoped the BSkyB deal would have been waved through by now, but the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has postponed making a decision to see if remedies can be found to avoid a long Competition Commission inquiry.

Hunt is in an invidious position, having previously expressed a view that the deal would not make a substantial difference to the plurality of the British media. An approval is likely to see Labour scream blue murder but, even before a decision has been reached, it is having political consequences.

Andy Coulson, the News of the World's former editor, resigned this month as the prime minister's director of communications, saying that persistent allegations of mobile-phone hacking occurring on his watch made it impossible for him to do his job.

His resignation was interpreted in some quarters as an attempt to take the heat off Murdoch at a crucial time in News Corp's bid for BSkyB.

Further revelations that Cameron and James Murdoch, the Europe and Asia chief of News Corp, had been dinner guests at the Cotswolds home of News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks over Christmas provided ammunition to those who claim No 10 is too close to the media empire.

That relationship looked set to become more apparent last week when Murdoch flew into the UK to hold urgent meetings with senior executives at News International.

There were rumours that Cameron and Murdoch were due to hold a brief, informal meeting later in the week in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, home to the World Economic Forum, but that this was called off when the News Corp boss decided to stay in London to deal with the phone-hacking scandal.

"He will be thinking all of this should have been sorted out long ago," said someone familiar with the thinking of the News Corp board. "He'll want to know why Rebekah has not closed this down."

Why News Corp is so eager to bag BSkyB was plain to see last week, when the broadcaster reported pre-tax profits of £467m, up a stunning 26% on the previous year.

But for Murdoch, BSkyB's profits came with a sting attached. As analysts at City brokers Charles Stanley Research note: "Our best guess is that clearance [for the News Corp takeover of BSkyB] will be granted, although perhaps only after a lengthy further investigation by the Competition Commission and/or the implementation of certain 'remedies'.

"We would expect a formal offer to subsequently be forthcoming from News Corp, although the continued strong financial performance of the business means the board of BSkyB may feel obliged to demand a price well in excess of its previously stated minimum acceptable level of 800p."

This demand is inevitable unless Crispin Odey, the powerful hedge fund manager who owns 3% of BSkyB and is often referred to as the "David Beckham of the City" because of his winning investments strategies, has dramatically changed his mind. Odey, whose views will be listened to closely by members of the BSkyB board, told analysts last June that "even at 800p [the price BSkyB has been demanding] this company is undervalued. We should hold out against this bid. This is a company I want to own."

He added: "I've loved the Sky story for five years and now, just as the cash-flow and growth is coming through, we shouldn't sell it. If shareholders sell at this level, in two years' time we are going to look back and say 'Rupert got this for a steal'."

Just to add piquancy to Odey's comments, it should be remembered that he was once married to Murdoch's daughter, Prudence.

As Murdoch waits in regulatory purgatory and hedge fund managers push BSkyB's share price north – a move that could see News Corp having to stump up as much as £1bn more than it expected – the media giant's investors are said to be growing restless.

A full News Corporation board meeting is believed to have been scheduled for Wednesday. The phone-hacking scandal and the BSkyB deal are expected to be high on the agenda. Bin Talal, who simply "does not lose money" according to someone who knows him well, is likely to pay very close attention to what is discussed.

Worryingly for Murdoch, who is used to his investors taking a back seat, the prince is a far from passive backer. As a sizable investor in bombed-out banking giant Citigroup, bin Talal has been vocal in calling for its management to improve the firm's fortunes, warning its chief executive last year that the "honeymoon was over".

Murdoch may soon find himself receiving similar encouragement if the BSkyB bid falters. It is an unpalatable prospect for an autocrat.

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HBO'S BOARDWALK EMPIRE PREMIERS IN EUROPE ON SKY TV IN UK AND IRELAND.

The media mogul Rupert Murdoch has said he wants Sky News to become more like his rightwing US network Fox News, and revealed the extent of his editorial grip on his British newspapers to a House of Lords committee.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2007/nov/24/bskyb.television

A ''deeply depressed'' Rupert Murdoch is reported to fear that bad press over phone-hacking and sexism scandals at his operations has shaken his chances of taking full control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

Andrew Neil, founding chairman of Sky TV and former editor of The Sunday Times, said Murdoch was furious with his London lieutenants for letting matters get out of hand.

http://www.theage.com.au/world/murdoch-depressed-over-scandals-impact-on-takeover-bid-20110129-1a90e.html

MAYBE MARTY SCORSSE CAN MAKE A MOVIE ABOUT MURDOCH?

Boardwalk Empire, the HBO TV series by Emmy Award-winning screenwriter and producer Terence Winter, will make its UK TV debut on new channel Sky Atlantic, it has been confirmed.

Sky Atlantic, owned by British Sky Broadcasting, will launch on Sky channel 108 on Tuesday (February 1st

http://www.inthenews.co.uk/news/entertainment/tv/boardwalk-empire-to-make-uk-debut-on-sky-atlantic-$21385329.htm).

It will primarily provide a home for US drama imports following the broadcaster's £150 million deal to buy HBO's archive and new programming.

Sky has announced that the new channel will give UK and Irish viewers their first chance to see Boardwalk Empire, which has been a big success in the US.

On average, approximately ten million people watch each episode when it airs on HBO, and the network has commissioned a second series.

The show is set in Prohibition-era Atlantic City and focuses on corrupt politician Enoch 'Nucky' Thompson, played by Steve Buscemi.

Speaking to Sky News Online, Winter said he particularly enjoyed writing about a world of vice.

"Look at a guy like Nucky. He lives in the Ritz Carlton, makes millions of dollars a year, he sleeps with show girls, he gets up at two in the afternoon.

"You know, what's not to like?!"

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Leading article: Sky should be limited for Murdoch

The Independent

Sunday, 30 January 2011

These have been a fraught few days in the office for Rupert Murdoch, who visited the London branch of his media empire last week. His television company, Sky, was humiliated by the sexist goonishness of Andy Gray and Richard Keys, the presenters of its Premiership football, its biggest generator of cash. Mr Gray was sacked on Tuesday and Mr Keys followed voluntarily on Wednesday after their off-air derogatory remarks about a female match official were leaked – although it was evidence of sexual harassment in the Sky office that emerged subsequently which prompted Mr Gray's dismissal.

This coincided awkwardly with a crisis in the long-running embarrassment at Mr Murdoch's biggest-selling Sunday newspaper, the News of the World. After the departure of Andy Coulson, the newspaper's former editor, from 10 Downing Street as the Prime Minister's head of communications, it must have been hoped, by Mr Murdoch and David Cameron, that the story would start to go away. Indeed, one of the purposes of Mr Murdoch's visit seems to have been to deliver in person the message that he wants the stables cleaned out properly this time – as opposed to the cosmetic exercises carried out earlier.

Mr Murdoch's intentions may be sincere, but they are not unrelated to the third story concerning his interests to have occupied the rest of the British media last week. He wants to buy out the outside shareholders in Sky. That means that he has to persuade the regulators that he and his son James take seriously the concerns about media pluralism, or free and fair competition.

Mr Murdoch senior has been here before. He made promises of editorial independence when he took over The Times and The Sunday Times in 1981, which were not honoured. Hence the scepticism about the undertakings that he is prepared to offer in order to secure total ownership of Sky.

That is why the refusal of the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World to die down is damaging to him. While not directly relevant to competition issues, his failure to enforce standards of journalistic integrity weakens promises about how his executives will behave in future.

The departure of Mr Coulson may have been part of an attempt agreed between Mr Cameron and the Government to try to close down the story, but the reopening of the police investigation puts more pressure on Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture. Mr Hunt has to decide whether to refer the Sky takeover to the Competition Commission, a decision removed from Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business, after he revealed his prejudice against Mr Murdoch to undercover Daily Telegraph reporters.

One response to Mr Murdoch's bid for Sky has been to wonder what the fuss is about. After all, Mr Murdoch already controls Sky by virtue of his 39 per cent shareholding. What practical difference would it make for him to own Sky outright? The technical answer is that he would not have to worry about the legally protected interests of other shareholders, which would allow him to cross-subsidise between his wholly owned companies.

But all that anyone really needs to know is that Mr Murdoch and his son are desperate for the takeover to go ahead. They think that it is in their commercial interest, and there is no guarantee – indeed, if anything the opposite – that such an interest is in the national interest.

Last week Mr Hunt said he "intends to refer" the bid to the Competition Commission, but gave Mr Murdoch unspecified further time to satisfy Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator, and the Office of Fair Trading. Possibly because it was unexpected, Mr Hunt's decision has been commended as "astute", although it is hard to see why. None of the assurances that Mr Murdoch might give – that Sky News would be independent, for instance – could be relied on.

The big question, therefore, is whether four newspapers plus such a large presence in non-public-service broadcasting is so dominant that it inhibits the vigour and pluralism of our free media. The Independent on Sunday has little faith in the safeguards offered by Mr Murdoch, and believes that giving him more power over Sky's editorial direction – and Sky News in particular – crosses a line that must be held in the public interest.

But it is the Competition Commission that should decide, and there is no purpose served by further delay.

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These have been a fraught few days in the office for Rupert Murdoch, who visited the London branch of his media empire last week. His television company, Sky, was humiliated by the sexist goonishness of Andy Gray and Richard Keys, the presenters of its Premiership football, its biggest generator of cash. Mr Gray was sacked on Tuesday and Mr Keys followed voluntarily on Wednesday after their off-air derogatory remarks about a female match official were leaked – although it was evidence of sexual harassment in the Sky office that emerged subsequently which prompted Mr Gray's dismissal.

It has been claimed that one of the reasons that Andy Gray was sacked by Murdoch was that he was taking legal action against the News of the World because his phone was hacked.

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These have been a fraught few days in the office for Rupert Murdoch, who visited the London branch of his media empire last week. His television company, Sky, was humiliated by the sexist goonishness of Andy Gray and Richard Keys, the presenters of its Premiership football, its biggest generator of cash. Mr Gray was sacked on Tuesday and Mr Keys followed voluntarily on Wednesday after their off-air derogatory remarks about a female match official were leaked – although it was evidence of sexual harassment in the Sky office that emerged subsequently which prompted Mr Gray's dismissal.

It has been claimed that one of the reasons that Andy Gray was sacked by Murdoch was that he was taking legal action against the News of the World because his phone was hacked.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/sep/10/phone-hacking-victims-list

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FT editor: press risks political retribution over phone-hacking scandal

Lionel Barber says most publishers failed to 'take the issue seriously' because their titles may also have been implicated

Read the full text of Lionel Barber's Hugh Cudlipp lecture

By Dan Sabbagh

guardian.co.uk, Monday 31 January 2011 20.04 GMT

Lionel Barber said the press's stance on phone hacking amounted to a 'conspiracy of silence'. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Lionel Barber, the editor of the Financial Times, tonight warned that the Britain's newspapers were now at risk of facing political "retribution" in the form of statutory regulation in the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, as he gave the Hugh Cudlipp memorial lecture.

He accused Rupert Murdoch's News International – publisher of the tabloid – of failing to pursue a policy of "own up rather than cover up" to hacking, while criticising the bulk of the industry of failing to "take the issue seriously" because their titles may also have been implicated in the illegal practice.

In a trenchant speech, Barber went on to warn that worries about the scale of phone hacking meant that News Corporation's £8bn bid for BSkyB was "troublesome" because "promises about editorial independence for Sky should be judged in the light of repeated assurances that the phone hacking was the work of a lone actor at the News of the World".

He described the phone-hacking scandal as a "watershed – not just for News International but also for tabloid journalism", arguing that a 2006 report by the Information Commissioner suggested that 305 journalists from a range of titles used the services of a private investigator.

Other newspapers, Barber said, "aside from the lead taken by the Guardian, which was followed by the FT, BBC and Independent", had taken "a pass on the News of the World phone-hacking story – almost certainly because they too were involved in similar practices". It amounted to, he said, a "conspiracy of silence [that] ruled Fleet Street".

The result – he warned – of a "failure to clean house at all news organisations" would be that the "mainstream media in Britain" would be "at risk of retribution in the form of statutory regulation", not least because many MPs are "itching to retaliate" in the wake of the expenses scandal.

Turning to Murdoch's News International in particular, Barber said that its management failed to follow the sort of advice their newspapers would have given in similar circumstances, namely to "own up rather than cover up, come clean rather than surreptitiously paying off aggrieved celebrities such as the publicist Max Clifford".

He added: "The suspicion must remain that News Corporation [the parent company of News International] assumed that it enjoyed enough power and influence in Britain to make the phone hacking controversy go away."

Barber also accused the Press Complaints Commission of being "supine at best" in its reaction to the hacking controversy, and said that the Metropolitan police faced "many questions" as to why it did not prosecute its original investigation into the News of the World with "sufficient rigour".

He also warned that politicians had become "a tad too respectful" towards broadcast and print media, highlighting the number of senior politicians who had previously worked in the industry, including David Cameron, a former director of communications with now defunct ITV company Carlton, through to former FT leader writer turned shadow chancellor, Ed Balls.

He added: "We have in recent years witnessed if not exactly a merger of the media and political class, certainly an increasingly intertwined relationship which, I suspect, does not necessarily serve the interest of either."

Criticism in the 5,000-word lecture was also briefly reserved for the Daily Telegraph for its decision to send two journalists posing as constituents to covertly record comments made by business secretary Vince Cable.

Barber said that the story did not meet "the public interest test", adding that it amounted to "nothing more than entrapment journalism".

There were also passages discussing the FT's online charging strategy, which has seen the newspaper win over 200,000 paid subscribers, although he conceded that the paper's approach "does not necessarily lend itself to being adopted by others" because the financial title was a "high-end niche product".

At one point Barber also conceded that the FT does not "always hit the ball out of the park", saying that the title, like many other news organisations, was slow to highlight the risk of the bursting of the credit bubble.

He said that his own career had progressed well, all be it in a "circumspect" fashion, after a bumpy start when "a young man called Mark Thompson turned down an article I proposed for Isis magazine" when the two were at Oxford. Thompson is now the BBC director general

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It has gradually emerged why the police decided not to bring charges against other journalists working for the News of the World. In the originally investigation in 2005 the police discovered that Vodafone, Orange and O2 had evidence that over 100 customers had their phones hacked by the News of the World. This evidence would have resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of several journalists. Instead, the police decided not to prosecute and encouraged the phone companies to destroy the evidence. They have now agreed to reopen the case but are unlikely to get convictions because the evidence has now been destroyed.

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Landlady 1, Sky Sports 0 – the legal victory that has Murdoch worried

By Ian Burrell, Media Editor

The Independent

Friday, 4 February 2011

A determined landlady has won a significant breakthrough in a legal battle that could transform the British pub trade by allowing premises to show Premier League games that are being broadcast by foreign networks.

Karen Murphy, who runs the Red, White and Blue pub in Portsmouth, is fighting a criminal and civil action brought against her after she began screening matches from the Greek broadcaster Nova, using a much cheaper decoder.

Yesterday, in a landmark case called "Murphy's Law", Julie Kokott, Advocate General at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, found that she had the right to show the matches, advising the EU's highest court to rule in favour of renegade landlords. The advice could cause a revolution in the way media sports rights are sold across the continent, and is sure to be the target of furious lobbying by the Premier League and by Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB ahead of a final decision this year.

Ms Murphy is in a bitter legal dispute with the Premier League which has lucrative exclusive deals, primarily with BSkyB but also with ESPN. For four years she has been fighting to overturn a criminal conviction for breach of the Premier League's copyright. She was fined £8,000 but has taken the case to the High Court on appeal.

Legal experts said the finding could create serious problems for BSkyB, which Mr Murdoch's News Corp is seeking to buy outright, and the funding of Premier League clubs. Robert Vidal, head of EU, competition and trade at lawyers Taylor Wessing LLP, said: "[Mr] Murdoch has always been a cheerleader for the free market; however, on this occasion I doubt he will welcome the introduction of cross-border competition and the resulting drop in turnover and margins as Sky customers migrate to cheaper providers."

The investment bank Jefferies believes that BSkyB makes about £200m a year from selling subscriptions to British pubs and other commercial premises. Paul Charity, editor of the Morning Advertiser, the magazine for the pub trade, said: "Anything that would mean licencees pay less would be welcome. The opinion has come as a bit of a shock to the pub trade because they thought that the copyright case was clearly in favour of Sky."

Ms Murphy's lawyer, Paul Dixon, said: "For the independent [pub] trade this gives them freedom to go out and buy television systems from broadcasters from any EU member state."

The publican must now wait three months for a formal judgment from the court made by a panel of 13 judges. Mr Dixon said he was confident of success after the Advocate General's finding. "It's an opinion that matters because more often than not the court will follow the Advocate General's opinion." The Advocate-General's "opinion" is not legally binding, but the full panel of EU judges follows such advice in about 80 per cent of cases. That ruling will then be passed to the High Court in London.

The case was referred to Luxembourg by the High Court because of a perceived lack of clarity in the European law. It was heard at the European Court of Justice on 5 October and the Spanish and Italian governments were among those who made representations in support of the Premier League's position. The UK government argues that the Premier League's right to license its broadcast rights for a fee in each member state is "part of the essential function of its copyright".

Ms Murphy's stance is being backed by the EFTA Surveillance Authority, which monitors compliance within the European Economic Area. The authority argues that a licensing agreement that prevents decoder cards being used outside a licensed territory "has as its object the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition".

The Tory MEP Emma McClarkin said that if the Premier League lost the case it would have "significant and detrimental" effects on the funding of grassroots sport in the UK. "This opinion is far more complicated than a simple David versus Goliath battle: money generated from television rights to sports are funnelled back into grass roots development, particularly in cricket and rugby. These are national football leagues that are being broadcast, and they should be subjected to national territorial rights agreements."

In the red, white and blue corner...

Karen Murphy

This owner of a street-corner Victorian pub a short walk from Portsmouth's Fratton Park ground has been compared to Jean-Marc Bosman, the Belgian player whose legal challenge changed the way the football transfer market operates across Europe.

The publican at the Red, White & Blue doesn't see herself as a revolutionary, so much as a traditionalist.

"Supporters don't want a match on a Tuesday night – which suits the broadcaster – they want a match on a Saturday afternoon," she has said.

"The whole thing has got way out of control. It's pure greed."

Outraged that pubs were being charged £1,000 a month to show matches, Ms Murphy followed advice from her brewery and cut a deal to take matches with the Greek broadcaster Nova.

Found guilty of breaching copyright in January 2007, she has refused to accept she has done anything wrong and is convinced she will win her case.

Ms Murphy, 46, compares the right to take games from different broadcasters to the right to buy a car from a selection of dealers. She has been a publican for nearly seven years and is known for visiting her regulars in hospital and staging fund-raising events to help people in the surrounding area of Southsea.

Sky in numbers

£1.6bn The amount the Premier League will make from its current three-year Sky deal.

£1bn Value of the Premier League's TV rights deals outside the UK over the same period.

£70m Sky revenues at risk should commercial subscribers switch to cheaper foreign deals.

£200m Amount BSkyB makes each year from selling subscriptions to pubs and other commercial organisations.

44,000 Number of commercial subscribers who have signed up to BSkyB packages.

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