Murdoch’s empire expansion halts as British probe brings more arrests

Britain wants Rupert Murdoch to testify before parliament over the wiretapping scandal. Earlier, the media mogul was pressured out of a deal with the UK’s largest satellite broadcaster.

The deal would have put him in control of a large part of the British media market.

Rupert Murdoch, the News Corporation chief executive, and his son James, chairman of News International, will attend a UK parliamentary hearing next Tuesday Reuters news agency quotes News Corp as saying on Thursday.

The pair had initially turned down the committee’s request to attend the hearing. This subsequent volte-face comes hot on the heels of prime minister David Cameron’s criticism of this refusal.

Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International and former editor of the recently defunct News of the World tabloid, had already agreed to attend the hearing next week.

The Murdochs and Brooks will be giving evidence to a parliamentary committee investigating the recent phone-hacking scandal.

British police have arrested Neil Wallis, former executive editor of the now defunct tabloid News of the World. It is the ninth arrest in the investigation of phone wiretapping and bribery.

And across the Atlantic, US senators are calling for a probe into allegations that 9/11 victims were also targeted by Murdoch's newspapers.

The unfolding scandal has forced Murdoch to put on hold the deal with the satellite broadcaster BSkyB in a move aimed at heading off the public outrage over the scandal.

The scandal has grown to include the British government and police officials, who stand accused of complicity and corruption.

On Thursday Scotland Yard informed it has arrested seventh suspect in the phone hacking scandal that led to the closure of the News of The World tabloid. A 60-year-old man was arrested early Thursday morning at a residential address, London's Metropolitan Police say. The man’s name has not been released because he has not been charged so far.

Across the Atlantic, shocked US senators are calling for a probe into allegations that 9/11 victims were also targeted by Murdock's newspapers.

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But it looks like the media mogul's rise over the decades on its own offered plenty of warning signs over what was to come.

On October 13, 1983, the Guardian dedicated a page to Rupert Murdoch titled “Reaching for the Sky to be Monarch of All Media.”

On August 27, 1989, the Observer published an article “Murdoch’s Values”, describing him as “…someone who has never hidden his distaste, if not contempt, for British values.”

But some say he has already killed the British press and they were saying it as far back as 1981, when he went on a media spending spree and bought, amongst others, the world-renowned Times newspaper.

“News International [Corp.] has been playing toxic part of our public life for so long,” evaluates the head of the UK Pirate Party Loz Kaye.

But it worked. Under his ownership, circulation just kept on rising in a market that killed off others, and Sky TV, a loss-making and obscure satellite network, rocketed to become the biggest player in the UK's pay TV market.

“I do admire Rupert Murdoch because he is a risk taker. When he bought the Times and Sunday Times of London, the newspaper business was absolutely in peril in the UK, mostly because of the [trade] unions and because of some other economic factors. He turned that around. Basically, there are people that would say that he saved the newspaper industry in London because of the ‘Wapping Revolution’ in 1986,” admits professor of journalism Tony Pederson of Southern Methodist University.

But now it is clear that success came with a heavy price tag – morality. Murdoch's journalists kept circulations high by violating and exploiting the vulnerable: they hacked the private voicemails of the families of dead soldiers and of murdered children.

“Essentially, we’ve seen criminality and invasion of privacy on a staggering industrial scale,” Loz Kaye says.

Not even the rich and powerful could escape. Then-Chancellor Gordon Brown’s baby’s photo was splashed over the front page of the Sun, his illness a sick headline, Royal family phones were hacked.

The scandal even goes right to the heart of the police force: senior police officers were bribed by journalists for tip-offs on sensitive investigations. Private lives were made public.

“Now we’ve got the fact that appears to be some hacking into Gordon Brown’s private life. You have to start to wonder ‘what else is in there?’ And of course it is not just phone hacking. Now the use of what we call ‘blaggers’. These are people played to obtain information from what should be private sources, like medical records and tax records,” remarks investigative journalist Paul Lashmar.

It has taken 30 years for the worst fears about the British press to come true. But come true they have. Murdoch may own successful newspapers in an ailing market, but they are papers which have lost their greatest asset – the public’s trust.

The UK has more CCTV cameras per person than anywhere else in the world, so in Britain they always know that Big Brother is watching. But the question now is, what is Big Brother watching for, and, more importantly, who is trying to bribe him?

­“UK parties felt they had to curry favor with News International to win elections”

Rupert Murdoch’s News International has had way too much power in the UK, which reaches into the world of politics, Pirate Party head Loz Kaye told RT.

“News International has been playing a toxic part in our public life for so long,” he said. “The chief worry that has been dogging us all along is the sense that it is not useful to our public life to have so much media power concentrated in the hands of one organization.”

According to Kaye, News International has had an immense influence on political life in the kingdom.

“Our two large parties here in the United Kingdom have actually been running scared,” he said. “They felt the need to curry favor with News International for fear that they will not be able to win elections. It has been hugely unhealthy for our public life.”