Murdoch empire’s ‘fitness’ queried

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There are “big questions” over whether Rupert Murdoch’s empire is fit and proper to control a UK broadcaster in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal, Business Secretary Vince Cable said yesterday.

Mr Cable also revealed there had been “heavy lobbying” by News Corporation over its bid for full ownership of BSkyB, following reports that some Liberal Democrats felt they had been “bullied”.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, the Cabinet Minister insisted no media firm should be allowed to wield the same influence in the UK again.

Mr Cable was stripped of responsibility for deciding the fate of the BSkyB deal last year after he was recorded in a newspaper sting saying he was at “war” with Mr Murdoch.

The MP stressed yesterday that there was nothing “personal” about recent concerns raised about the media mogul.

“The balanced historical view would be that he has made positive contributions,” he said.

“But we are dealing with the world as it actually is, where we have had a very very dominant media company and we need to deal with the lessons from that.”

He added: “There are other big media companies which could have the same influence in future and we have got to stop that happening.”

Mr Cable said it was right that Ofcom should look at whether News Corp’s UK subsidiary News International was “fit and proper” to hold a stake in BSkyB.

“Certainly that is a big question to ask in view of what has happened, but fortunately it’s not for politicians to come to a definitive judgment on that, it is for the regulator,” he added.

Mr Cable was also asked about reports that senior figures at News Corp’s UK subsidiary News International warned Lib Dems that they could be “done over” by its papers if the BSkyB bid did not go through.

“There was, how can I say, heavy lobbying,” Mr Cable replied. “Perfectly legal.”

Meanwhile, aides to George Osborne have denied any impropriety after it emerged that the Chancellor dined with Rupert Murdoch in New York in December, shortly before Mr Cable was stripped of responsibility for the BSkyB bid.

They stressed that BSkyB was not discussed, and the visit was wide-ranging. “George meets with proprietors and editors of all the newspapers and this information was submitted for publication last week,” a spokesman said.

The Cabinet office is due to disclose details of all senior ministers’ meetings with the media group over the coming days.

It has also been claimed that when in Opposition David Cameron dropped a proposal for sharing the BBC licence fee with other broadcasters at the request of James Murdoch.

Mr Murdoch was said to have opposed the idea because it threatened the existing media “duopoly” between the BBC and Sky.

However, the Tories insisted the idea was never a formal policy, and had not been supported by other broadcasters.

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said “without question” those found guilty of corruption should go to jail.

“I have zero tolerance of any officer that steps outside that line regardless of their rank or whether they’re a sworn officer or indeed a member of support staff supporting policing,” he told the BBC.

“There is a zero tolerance of that, and this inquiry or one of the many inquiries will look precisely at that.”

He added: “Every police officer patrolling the streets this morning expects any corrupt officer that lets the side down, that does huge damage to policing to be locked up and the key thrown away.”