LONDON, July 11, 2011 (AFP) - Media baron Rupert Murdoch Monday fought to keep his bid for satellite broadcaster BSkyB alive after reports that his top executives were aware of the widespread phone-hacking which felled News of the World.
Murdoch flew into London to take personal charge of the scandal that caused the demise of the 168-year-old British tabloid as calls mounted for the government to block his media empire's BSkyB bid.
|AFP - Rebekah Brooks (R) Chief Executive of News International and Rupert Murdoch Chairman of News Corporation leave from his London residence shortly after his arrival in Britain on July 10, 2011.|
Murdoch's News Corp. aims to take full control of the broadcaster by acquiring 61 percent of BSkyB that it did not already own.
The deal originally looked set to go through in the coming days, but the government has now suggested that it could be delayed for several months amid the furore.
Labour leader Ed Miliband on Sunday led fresh calls for the proposed deal to be shelved until an ongoing police probe is over and threatened to force a vote in parliament on the issue.
The idea that News Corp. "should be allowed to take over BSkyB, to get that 100 percent stake, without the criminal investigation having been completed... frankly that just won't wash with the public," he told BBC television.
Pressure mounted as the BBC and the Telegraph and Guardian newspapers said a 2007 internal report of News International (NI) -- which News Corp. owns -- revealed "smoking guns" e-mails which showed the full extent of the paper's use of hacking.
This contradicted claims made at the time that the practice was limited to a "rogue reporter".
NI passed on e-mails detailing the report's findings to police last month.
Long-time Murdoch adviser Les Hinton now faces questions over whether he saw the report before he told a parliamentary committee that the practice was isolated, media reports said on Monday.
News of the World had been dogged by allegations of phone hacking for years and recent claims that a murdered girl and the families of dead soldiers were targeted turned the row into a national scandal.
Murdoch meanwhile backed Rebekah Brooks, the under-fire NI chief executive as the pair left his home following crisis talks on Sunday. When asked what his priority was, the tycoon gestured towards Brooks and said: "this one".
The dramatic events of the past week have ramped up the pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron, particularly the arrest on Friday of his ex-media chief Andy Coulson, who edited the News of the World from 2003 to 2007 before working for the prime minister.
The 43-year-old was detained on suspicion of involvement in phone hacking and illegal police payments and has been released on bail until October.
Cameron employed Coulson after he quit the News of the World in 2007, following the jailing of one of the paper's journalists and a private investigator over hacking.
Coulson has always denied wrongdoing, but he was forced to resign as Cameron's director of communications in January this year because of ongoing hacking revelations.
Brooks, a former editor of the News of the World, has also faced calls to quit and will be questioned by police as part of the ongoing investigation, The Times reported Monday.
The tabloid hit the newsstands for the last time Sunday with the headline "Thank You and Goodbye" and an apology for having "lost our way".
Late Saturday, editor Colin Myler led staff out of the News of World's offices in Wapping, east London, after an emotional day preparing the final edition.
"I want to pay tribute to this wonderful team of people here, who, after a really difficult day, have produced in a brilliantly professional way a wonderful newspaper," Myler told reporters outside.
More than 200 staff now face an uncertain future.
The final edition charted the title's finest moments under the banner "World's Greatest Newspaper -- 1843-2011", from investigations by the "Fake Sheikh" to a controversial campaign against paedophiles.
Stocks of the paper ran low at newspaper kiosks on Sunday, despite the final print run having been increased to five million copies to cope with demand, as Britons rushed to buy a souvenir copy.