UK politicians say hacking scandal no bar to BSkyB deal

* Treasury minister says two separate things

* Committee chair questions how widespread hacking is

LONDON, April 10 (Reuters) – Rupert Murdoch’s planned
takeover of pay-TV operator BSkyB should not be affected by his
UK news arm admitting its role in a long-running phone hacking
scandal, British politicians said on Sunday.

News International, parent company of Britain’s top-selling
News of the World tabloid, said on Friday it would admit
liability and pay compensation in some civil cases, something it
did in this Sunday’s edition. [ID:nLDE7371L1]

It was an about-turn from the media group’s previous denial
that it knew journalists were accessing voicemail messages of
the royal family, politicians, celebrities and sports stars.

News International is part of Murdoch’s global media empire
News Corp (NWSA.O: Quote, Profile, Research).

Some critics said the admission raised questions about News
Corp’s $14 billion planned purchase of BSkyB, which is set to be
given the green light by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt in the
next few weeks.

Former Home Secretary John Prescott, who believes his phone
was hacked by the paper, said on Friday the government should
hold off “until all investigations are complete”.

But the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Alexander said that while police investigations must continue
into what he said had been “a serious scandal”, it did not raise
questions over the deal.

“The decision about BSkyB and News Corp is something which
is being considered completely separately,” he told BBC TV.

“Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, is acting in a
quasi-judicial capacity. The factors he can take into account
are very tightly circumscribed by law.”

Labour’s shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain, who criticised
the police investigation up until recently as “tardy”, said the
issue was more about “one rogue newspaper”.

“This is not about the wider issue of Sky and its situation
in broadcasting,” he told BBC television.

“What we have seen here is a rogue newspaper behaving in a
rogue fashion and subverting democratic rights and subverting
people’s individual human rights whether they are politicians or
celebrities.”

John Whittingdale, Conservative chairman of parliament’s
culture committee, said Britain needed to take a long-hard look
at how the press had operated in the past.

“Now at the moment there isn’t necessarily any evidence
pointing beyond the News of the World, but I think that is
something that needs to be considered,” he told Sky News.

Charlotte Harris of law firm Mishcon de Reya, which
represents five of the 24 individuals with active court cases
against the News of the World, said there was a lot more
evidence to look at.

“Whether or not it will end up with a great big trial I
don’t know, I think it may well do,” she told BBC television.

News International had always blamed a handful of “rogue
reporters”.

The scandal threw into question the judgment of Prime
Minister David Cameron, who appointed former News of the World
editor Andy Coulson as his head of communications.

Coulson ran the paper at the time of the hacking scandal.
Although he has always denied knowledge of it, he was forced to
resign as Cameron’s media manager earlier this year, saying the
focus on the hacking scandal was too great a distraction.

The scandal dates back to 2005/6, when the tabloid’s royal
reporter and a private detective were arrested and jailed for
snooping on the voicemail messages of royal aides.

Police reopened an investigation and earlier this week
arrested two journalists, former senior News of the World editor
Ian Edmondson and a man identified as the paper’s chief reporter
Neville Thurlbeck.
(Writing by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

UK politicians say hacking scandal no bar to BSkyB deal