Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation has withdrawn its bid to buy full control of BSkyB, Britain’s largest satellite broadcaster.
The move came as MPs looked set to condemn the bid, in the wake of a phone hacking and police bribery scandal at the Sunday tabloid, the News of the World.
British Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed News Corp’s decision to drop the bid:
“The business should focus on clearing up the mess and getting its own house in order,” said his spokesman.
A full-scale political row is brewing. In parliament, the prime minister was grilled again about his former communications chief, Andy Coulson, the paper’s ex-editor.
“I hired a tabloid editor. I did so on the basis of assurances that he gave me that he did not know about the phone hacking, and he was not involved in criminality,” said David Cameron. “If it turns out he lied, it won’t just be that he shouldn’t have been in government, it will be that he should be prosecuted. But I do believe, Mr Speaker, we must stick to the principle that you are innocent until proven guilty.”
The opposition also welcomed the withdrawal of the bid and kept up the pressure.
“The Prime Minister must now publish the fullest account of all the information that was provided, and what he did, and why those warnings went unheeded. And most of all, he should apologise for the catastrophic error of judgement he made in hiring Andy Coulson,” said Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.
David Cameron also vowed to look into whether 9/11 victims were targeted by phone hacking journalists.
Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is under unprecedented scrutiny. The prime minister says senior executives – which could include his son James – could be banned from British media for life if found to have taken part in wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, the fallout threatens to spread to the US, where there are calls for an investigation to determine whether News Corporation has broken any American laws.