All eyes turn to the arrival in the UK of News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch, who says his first priority is Rebekah Brooks, despite facing mounting pressure to drop his takeover bid for BSkyB.
The 80-year-old has not issued a public statement on the phone hacking crisis, but he told reporters outside his London home that New International’s embattled chief executive Rebekah Brooks was his first priority.
Mr Murdoch was seen leaving his home with his arm around Ms Brooks just a few hours after this arrival in the UK. When asked what his first priority was, Mr Murdoch said: “This one”, gesturing towards Ms Brooks.
The first thing he should do is drop the bid for BSkyB because he should recognise that with the cloud hanging over his organisation it’s not possible for this bid to go ahead. Ed Miliband
The News Corporation chairman was pictured earlier being driven from Luton airport to News International’s headquarters in Wapping, reading a final edition of the News of the World.
He spent an hour at the company’s headquarters in Wapping, where last night staff put the Sunday tabloid to bed for the last time.
Mr Murdoch’s arrival came amid mounting pressure on the Government to freeze News Corp’s proposed takeover of UK broadcasting group BSkyB.
Labour leader Ed Miliband has threatened to force a vote in the House of Commons on suspending consideration of the proposed News Corp takeover of BSkyB until the criminal investigations of the phone hacking scandal have been completed.
Mr Miliband said: “The first thing he should do is drop the bid for BSkyB because he should recognise that with the cloud hanging over his organisation it’s not possible for this bid to go ahead at the current time and the second thing he should do is show some responsibility to his organisation because it beggars belief that Rebekah Brooks is still in her post.”
Yet Mr Murdoch reiterated his support for Ms Brooks while at a media conference in the US yesterday, despite widespread calls for her resignation.
Mr Miliband appeared to be backed by senior Liberal Democrats with deputy leader Simon Hughes indicating that he supported calls to stall the bid, and Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, who could not rule out support for a Labour motion to be tabled on Wednesday.
Mr Huhne said: “I think we should have a clear assurance from Murdoch that none of his other titles have been involved in these activities because clearly if this is very widespread this is very relevant to the issue of a fit and proper person running a broadcasting organisation”.
Could life imitate art on the BSkyB takeover?
Hugh Grant's presence in this debate makes for hilarious confusion, blogs Krishnan Guru-Murthy. We all know what he'd do if the David he played in Love Actually was PM. He wouldn't just block James Murdoch from taking over BSkyB, he'd throw a glass of water at him and stamp on his toe...
Read more: Could life imitate art on the BSkyB takeover?
Ms Brooks has insisted there was no reason to suspect hacking had taken place at News International’s other titles; The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times.
But Tory Transport Secretary Philip Hammond insisted that the Government was constrained by its legal duties and accused the Opposition leader of “playing politics” with the hacking issue.
A consultation on News Corp’s bid to buy the remaining BSkyB shares it does not own ended on Friday – with the Government signalling that it could take several months before Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt was in a position to make a ruling.
But Mr Miliband and other senior figures argue that the takeover should have been referred to the Competition Commission and have urged media regulator Ofcom to consider whether the hacking controversy alters its view on whether News Corp was “fit and proper” to run BSkyB.
While Ofcom could intervene “at any time” to look into whether it believed News Corps remained “fit and proper”, Mr Hunt had to make his judgment solely on the grounds of plurality.
“I understand people would be very concerned (if the takeover went through while criminal investigations were ongoing) and I think many of us would be very concerned,” Mr Hammond said.
If the (Labour) motion is calling on the Government to ride roughshod over the law, then I’m afraid that would be calling on us to be in no better position than others are currently being accused of. Philip Hammond
“But we have to operate within the law. If the (Labour) motion is calling on the Government to ignore its duties under the law, simply to ride roughshod over the law, then I’m afraid that would be calling on us to be in no better position than others are currently being accused of.
“I am sorry if Ed Miliband moves away from sensible engagement with the issue to simply playing politics,” he added.
Read more: Final edition - News of the World bows out