By Neil Woulfe – Radar News Director
UPDATE: Rupert Murdoch has now dropped his bid to acquire BSkyB in wake of the phone hacking scandal.
In a stunning move, the British Parliament has summoned Rupert Murdoch, his son James and former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks to testify before them on the phone hacking scandal that has rocked the Murdoch media empire to its very core.
The three are expected to appear before Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday, July 19 as part of a public inquiry into the scandal that’s also the target of a criminal investigation.
At issue – did they know about the hacking, and did they authorize it?
While Brooks has appeared before the committee twice, in 2003 and 2007, both Rupert and James Murdoch have been reluctant to appear in the past and cannot be compelled to appear by Parliament because they are not UK citizens, but rather Australians.
Sky News reports that the Murdochs have not yet confirmed they will in fact appear, although it’s assumed they will.
As RadarOnline.com has previously reported, Murdoch’s News of the World published its final issue last Sunday after 168-years in business. The paper — once Britain’s most popular tabloid — lost its credibility (and advertisers) when it was revealed that some of its reporters routinely hacked into the voicemails of thousands of people, including celebrities, a murdered child and the relatives of slain British soldiers.
In wake of the scandal, several people have been arrested, most notably Andy Coulson, 43, the former editor of News of the World from 2003 until his resignation in 2007. (Coulson has denied knowing about the hacking).
The investigation is also trying to determine if a handful of police officers were illegally paid for tips by the paper during Coulson’s reign as editor.
News International, owned by Murdoch’s News Corp, released a statement saying that “senior executives” will “cooperate” with parliament’s probe. However, if Murdoch, his son and Brooks do not answer the summons, parliament will compel them to do so.
Adding to Murdoch’s headache: News Corp is in the midst of trying to buy the remaining 60.9% of BskyB that they do not already own, a deal that must be approved by UK authorities.
If approved, the acquisition would turn News Corp into the leading UK broadcaster behind the BBC. The scandal, however, has seriously jeopardized the deal from being approved. In fact, the House of Commons will vote on a motion declaring that “it is in the public interest for Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation to withdraw their bid for BSkyB.”
Although the motion doesn’t have the ability to kill the deal, it represents a powerful symbolic blow against the deal– and against Murdoch.
Meanwhile, the scandal keeps growing: this past Monday, news emerged that reporters with two other Murdoch-owned papers, the Sun and Sunday Times, had allegedly hacked into the medical and financial records of former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The medical records included of Brown’s four-year-old son, who has cystic fibrosis. Brown said he wept upon seeing his son’s condition splash on the front page of the paper.