British lawmakers geared up 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 parliament against the one-time kingmaker of British politics, the coalition government looked set to back an opposition motion urging Murdoch to withdraw his bid for control of the broadcaster.
In the United States, 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,” the Democrat 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.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to announce details on Wednesday of two inquiries he has promised into the long-running phone hacking row at the News of the World, which Murdoch closed in a shock move last week.
A judge-led inquiry will look into the scandal itself, but only after the police have finished their investigations, and another is expected to examine the relationship between the press and politicians and media regulation.
After Cameron’s statement, lawmakers will debate the motion introduced by Ed Miliband, leader of the main opposition Labour party, asking Murdoch to withdraw his BSkyB bid “in the public interest”.
The motion is not binding but Miliband said he hoped that Murdoch would “recognise the strength of public feeling and the will of all the major parties.”
Cameron’s office said his Conservative party would join its coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, in backing the non-binding motion, saying: “We are intending to support it.”
However, the minister in charge of deciding on News Corp’s offer, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who referred the BSkyB bid to competition regulators on Monday, is expected to abstain from any vote.
Murdoch’s empire could be considering another more drastic change, however.
The News Corp-owned Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that he is considering selling off its remaining British newspapers, The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun.
News Corp. on Tuesday announced a $5 billion stock repurchase plan after its shares lost 14.6 percent on Wall Street over the past week.
Murdoch flew to London on Sunday to take control of the crisis, and lawmakers have invited him, his son James and his top British executive to give evidence on phone hacking and allegations that News International papers paid police for information.
News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the News of the World, could be compelled because she is a British citizen, unlike Murdoch and his son James, a senior News Corp. executive.
The role of the British police came under scrutiny on Tuesday when 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 168-year-old 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 having “clearly misled us” in the original inquiry.
A new police investigation was opened in January, and officers are now trawling through 11,000 documents seized from private detective Glenn Mulcaire, who was jailed in 2007 as a result of the original investigation.
Meanwhile Murdoch’s British newspaper arm strongly rejected claims by former British prime minister Gordon Brown that it had hired “criminals” to access his private information.
The Sun tabloid fought back against claims it used illegal methods to break the news of Brown’s son Fraser’s cystic fibrosis, splashing the headline “Brown wrong — We didn’t probe son’s medical records” across its front page.