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UK's Labour attacks Murdoch empire over phone hacking

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 27 Sep 2011 14:01 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Adrian Croft

LIVERPOOL, England, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Britain's opposition Labour Party attacked Rupert Murdoch's media empire on Tuesday over a phone hacking scandal at its British newspaper arm and called for a shakeup of media ownership laws and regulation.

A succession of Labour politicians stood up to attack Murdoch's group at the party's annual conference which debated a motion calling on Murdoch's son, James, to stand down as chairman of British broadcaster BSkyB .

MP Tom Watson, a member of parliament's media committee who has campaigned hard over phone hacking, urged the conference to tell regulator Ofcom what it thought about James Murdoch.

"I wouldn't put him on the board of an ornamental garden. He is certainly not a fit and proper person to chair a major broadcaster," he said.

The scandal has also caused soul-searching with the Labour Party over its close relationship with the Murdoch group, whose support helped former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair to three successive election wins between 1997 and 2005.

Ivan Lewis, the party's culture spokesman, said a company must never again have so much power and control over the British media. Labour would put forward proposals for new tougher cross-media ownership laws, he said.

He also called for a new system of independent regulation of the press. "As in other professions, the industry should consider whether people guilty of gross malpractice should be struck off," he said.

Murdoch's News Corp and son James have been seriously damaged by the admission that some journalists at the Sunday tabloid the News of the World used private investigators to hack into phone messages to secure stories.

The allegations escalated in July when it became clear the hacking had been widespread and used against murder victims and British war dead, as well as politicians and celebrities.

James Murdoch, who is chairman of the News Corp British newspaper arm as well as BSkyB, is accused of not doing enough to unravel the scale of the problem at the newspaper.

The scandal caused a wave of public anger which ultimately brought about the closure of the News of the World, and led to the resignation of Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International, the British newspaper arm of News Corp.

It also forced News Corp to withdraw a bid to buy the part of pay TV group BSkyB it did not already own and shook the British political establishment.

Labour MP Chris Bryant said Labour governments had allowed BSkyB to build up a monopoly in the British pay-TV market.

"I think in the future we should choose our bedfellows with a little bit more care," he said. (Reporting by Adrian Croft)

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