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Live-Blog: James Murdoch Appearing Before Leveson Inquiry Into U.K. Media Ethics

Breaking News … Refresh for latest live-blogging from London …

In London this morning, James Murdoch is expected to answer questions and give evidence as they relate to phone hacking at former News Corp tabloid News Of The World. He may also be probed about alleged email hacking at The Times, also controlled by News Corp. Murdoch stepped down as head of News Corp’s UK press arm, News International, in February amid the ongoing phone hacking scandal. The move was not a tacit admission that he tried to cover up phone hacking, he said in a March letter sent to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that read in part, “This is untrue. I take my share of responsibility for not uncovering wrongdoing earlier. However, I have not misled Parliament. I did not know about, nor did I try to hide, wrongdoing.”

The Leveson Inquiry into UK media ethics began last fall, spurred on by allegations of phone hacking and bribery at News Of The World after the scandal broke wide open in July and it was revealed that the voice mail of murdered school girl Milly Dowler had been accessed. Since then, the scandal has mushroomed and last week it was reported that almost 50 new civil claims have been filed. There are said to be 4,791 potential victims and police are believed to have identified 1,174 likely victims of phone hacking out of 1,892 who have been contacted. About 60 cases have already been settled and News Corp maintains it is determined to settle all possible cases. Both James and his father Rupert appeared together before a Parliamentary committee last July and James reappeared before the committee in November. This time, James is on his own again. Rupert will give evidence tomorrow and is also scheduled for Thursday morning if necessary. We’ll be following the testimony closely over the next few days. All times below are UK local time:

Murdoch arrived at the high court over an hour before he was due to give testimony, Financial Times correspondent Ben Fenton tweeted. Read More »

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Puttnam: Murdoch Takeover “Extremely Damaging To Informed Democratic Debate”

Speaking in the House of Lords, the UK equivalent of the Senate, David Puttnam said that News Corp’s bid to take control of BSkyB posed a threat to democracy. Here are excerpts from the speech given by the one-time Columbia Pictures boss:

My Lords… I had the honour of entering your Lordships House thirteen years ago tomorrow. Since that time there have been three or four really big issues with which I’ve consistently tried to engage – in part because they relate to experiences gained in my former life, but also because I believe they represent the type of issues upon which rests the future of the type of society most of us would wish to live in… My Lords, the purpose of this afternoon’s debate is to draw attention to the possibility that we are on the edge of a very slippery slope – one that could find us falling further and further under the influence of a single, US-based owner, with a highly questionable interest in the benefits of a diverse and flourishing plural media here in the United Kingdom. So why this debate, and why now?

The primary reason My Lords is that News Corporation yesterday notified the European Commission of its intention to purchase the 61% of BSkyB that it does not presently own. As I’ve already mentioned, this morning we heard the welcome news that this proposal had been referred by the Secretary of State, to Ofcom. It’s my most sincere hope that the Coalition’s proposed ‘trimming’ of Ofcom’s powers will not result in any diminution of its capacity to exercise those powers in respect of important matters such as this.

There, are of course, a number of aspects to media plurality – notably the Government’s proposals to repeal the local “cross-media” ownership laws, but this afternoon I only have time to focus on the really big issue resulting from News Corporation’s power, reach and influence. It’s my contention that if regulators and legislators in Europe and the UK remain supine, and simply wave this proposed acquisition through, the consequences for the citizens, as well as the political class in this country could become deeply troubling. The purchase of these shares would give News Corporation an unprecedented level of control over the UK media, one that to my mind has the potential to be extremely damaging, not just in respect of media plurality, but to informed democratic debate as a whole.

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Fears Grow If Rupert Murdoch Buys BSkyB

Nobody expects UK Business Secretary Vince Cable to block Rupert Murdoch from buying the 61% of Sky he doesn’t already own. But Cable, a popular politician here in Britain, is unhappy about Murdoch’s tightening grip on UK media. The official cannot even start an examination until News Corp has filed its takeover bid with the European Commission in Brussels. I’m told that News Corp is still in pre-notification discussions with the IC and conversations are going back and forth between Brussels and News Corp headquarters in Isleworth, west London. Formal notification should happen within weeks.

Enders Analysis — the TV consultancy which has already written to Cable appealing for him to block News Corp’s Sky takeover on media plurality grounds — estimates that, sometime between 2015-2020, News International and Sky will control 50% of the UK newspaper and television markets respectively. Sky is already bigger than the BBC is terms of broadcasting revenue, earning £5.4 billion compared with the BBC’s £3.6 billion licence fee. “I think the chances of an intervention are very slim indeed,” Enders tells me.

This morning’s Financial Times has called on Cable to investigate the deal. Yet Cable, who’s a Liberal Democrat minister in the government coalition, is experiencing what any British politician – Conservative or Labour – fearful of upsetting the Murdoch press feels right now. Because Murdoch’s power, according to Labour PR adviser Lance Price, is rooted in fear of what he might do as much as in fear of what … Read More »

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