News Corp.’s phone-hacking scandal in Britain showed the influence of a “dominant company” in a country with weak media rules, Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian newspaper, told a government inquiry.
News Corp. came close this year to a full takeover of British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc, the U.K.’s largest pay-TV provider. The deal was abandoned in July only after the Guardian reported News Corp.’s News of the World tabloid had hacked the phone of a murdered school girl in 2002.
Until the Dowler revelation, “there appeared to be nothing anyone could do to prevent News Corp. from effectively doubling its already-remarkable dominance of the British media,” Rusbridger said today at a judge-led inquiry into the press. It’s important the inquiry offer a regulatory framework “which prevents media companies in this country from acquiring too much dominance.”
News Corp., based in New York, gave up its bid to buy the 61 percent of BSkyB it didn’t already own and closed the News of the World in July to help contain the five-year-old scandal. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron called for the inquiry to determine if the press mistreated the public and has undue influence in law enforcement and government.
The Guardian is credited with bringing the scandal to light two years ago, when it revealed a settlement between London- based News Corp. unit News International and a phone-hacking victim. The story suggested correctly that phone hacking was more widespread and upended the company’s attempt to blame it on a “rogue” reporter arrested in 2006.
The hacking scandal also shows the U.K.’s current media regulator, the Press Complaints Commission, isn’t regulating at all, Rusbridger said. The voluntary watchdog, funded by the industry, was criticized for clearing News International of wrongdoing, prompting a debate over the press regulating itself.
“It is a mystery as to why it launched an inquiry into something it was completely ill-equipped to investigate,” the editor said. “It was clearly lied to by the industry’s main player, yet appears to lack the powers or the will to do anything about it.”
David Sherborne, the lawyer representing 51 victims in the inquiry, said today the scandal showed News International had made an “Industrial Revolution” from improper methods including phone hacking, computer hacking and police bribery. He claimed evidence suggests as many as 10 articles in each edition of the News of the World over the last four years may have been based on information from phone hacking.
A lawyer for News Corp. said yesterday he can’t guarantee phone hacking at the News of the World ended in 2007, when ex- royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for the practice. London police suspect hacking continued at the newspaper until at least 2009, possibly dating the practice to James Murdoch’s tenure as head of News International, a lawyer for the inquiry said Nov. 14.
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