Hacking Update: UK Might Seek Tighter Media Controls In Wake Of Scandal
The fallout from News Corp’s phone-hacking scandal continued to reverberate today. U.K. Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt said he was backing new legislation that would tighten controls on cross-media ownership. Under the proposal, rolled out at the Royal Television Society Convention in Cambridge, politicians would be barred from approving major media deals and inquiries on media plurality could be launched by regulators Ofcom and the Competition Commission without the trigger of a takeover bid. Hunt said that News Corp’s near takeover of BSkyB in July, abandoned in the scandal’s wake, convinced him changes were needed. “I was very conscious in the recent BSkyB bid that however fairly I ran the process, people were always going to question my motives,” he said. News of the UK proposal comes one day after the Australian government promised an inquiry into the country’s media after politicians complained that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp owns too many newspapers. Calls have been growing for an Australian inquiry into News Corp since the New York-based company closed London’s News of the World in July over the scandal, after accusations its journalists had illegally eavesdropped on people as they searched for stories. News Corp owns 70% of Australia’s newspapers.
Also today, the judge leading the UK phone-hacking investigation said that Hugh Grant and J.K. Rowling were among dozens of celebrities given permission to participate in a top-level inquiry into hacking by British journalists. Judge Brian Leveson gave “core participant” status — qualifying them or their lawyers to examine witnesses — to politicians, celebrities and the families of murder victims “who have, or may have, suffered as a consequence of press activity.” British Prime Minister David Cameron set up the Leveson Inquiry in response to public fury at the News of the World newspaper, which shut down this summer. Police are investigating phone-hacking and related bribery allegations, and lawmakers are conducting separate probes.
News Corp’s Chase Carey Says His Role “Hasn’t Changed” With Hacking Scandal
News Corp COO Chase Carey continued the company’s effort to persuade Wall Street that all’s fine with its core media businesses — even as it struggles with multiple investigations into the News of the World scandal. “My role really hasn’t changed,” he said at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference. “As time goes on the issues will get better flushed out, particularly some of the issues beyond the UK. … We’re going to cooperate fully and take the appropriate steps.” Carey said he “won’t get into hypotheticals” when asked if there were specific steps the company could take to put the scandal behind it. Nor did he indicate whether the company might split its newspapers from the growing entertainment and cable properties. ”We don’t have a plan to do so,” he said adding that “it’s an historical foundation for the business, but that doesn’t mean you don’t look at it with a fresh eye.”
Echoing the message other media execs delivered today, he says the national ad market “continues to be robust.” Local sales are slowing, but could pick up next year as political ads kick in.