Westminster guns for Murdoch

Picture of Brooks and MurdochThis afternoon all three major political parties will back the Labour motion in Parliament stating that News International should back away from its bid to take over the remainder of BSkyB. Meanwhile parent company News Corp is buying its shares back in the US while the cost is low.
Meanwhile Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch have been invited to Westminster next week for a meeting in which they will be asked to give an account of their role or negligence during this whole fiasco. So today he's being told to naff off but given a polite invitation for next week.

It's war against News International - but without teeth or any particular legal basis. The trio will no doubt argue that they weren't aware of the hacking and are therefore guilty only of breaking the "We think you're a bit creepy" Act of 2011.

There are laws of corporate governance, though, for which ignorance is no excuse - it turns into negligence if something bad happened on your watch. As if this weren't bad enough for News Corp, in the US Senator Jay Rockefeller has called for a Stateside investigation into the company.

Also in the US News Corp has reportedly been buying its own shares back, presumably on the assumption that they will recover from their current collapse. If the Rockefeller move comes to anything this could end up as a huge mistake.

Legal teeth

The Labour-originated motion will pass this afternoon because frankly nobody's going to want to be seen not backing it. It won't oblige Murdoch to abandon his bid for BSkyB - it's a private business buying into another private business - but it'll send a message about how unpopular the newspaper magnate has suddenly become and how unwelcome his extended ownership of the British media would be.

The real winner in this - unexpectedly - has to be Ed Miliband, who has been setting the agenda up to and including the wording of this motion. Only on Monday the Prime Minister and the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, were stressing how they needed to stay independent; called to speak out against Murdoch, David Cameron told an MP he would look "pretty for a day but useless for a week" if he did so.

He is now backing the motion quite enthusiastically and Hunt is likely to be pressured into doing the same - having said this wouldn't be legal on Monday. They will try to get the agenda back today - at the moment the PM looks like an unruly puppy brought into line by Miliband.

The larger question for Miliband is whether he will be able to press home his newly-discovered talent for leadership for any more than this single issue. The question for Murdoch and News Corp/News International is whether there is any way back for them in the UK and how damaging this has been internationally.


The call for investigations in the US will be particularly worrying for the company but as yet it's just talk.

In the UK there has been speculation that Murdoch will try to sell his newspapers - the Sun, Times and Sunday Times. If he aims to do so then finding a buyer for the quality papers, which make very little money, may not be easy.

Oh, and anyone who thought the closure of the News of the World wasn't a cynical face-saving exercise might want to note that the management of that newspaper had been streamlined with that of the Sun a few weeks ago. And yesterday the Internet domains sunonsunday.co.uk and thesunonsunday.co.uk were discreetly transferred to News International.

For more on Murdoch see my colleague Martin Cloake's report on how he plays the tax system to make a profit - first link below.

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