British phone hacking scandal widens

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LONDON (AP) - Rupert Murdoch's cozy relationship with the British power structure came to an abrupt end Tuesday after Prime Minister David Cameron joined the opposition in calling for the media magnate to withdraw his bid for control of a lucrative satellite broadcaster.

Rupert Murdoch (photo courtesy David_Shankbone via Flickr)

Cameron's turnabout means all three major political parties are now lined up against Murdoch in his bid for the BSkyB gold mine, which enjoys profits that dwarf revenue from his dwindling British newspaper holdings.

The news came in a stunning announcement from Cameron's office indicating that the government would join the opposition in a parliamentary vote Wednesday urging Murdoch - who until recently kept British politicians in his hip pocket - to withdraw the bid

The statement was a clear indication that Murdoch's magic carpet ride is over, at least in Britain: "This House believes that it is in the public interest for Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation to withdraw their bid for BSkyB," it read.

The resolution is nonbinding but is likely to be seen as a powerful expression of united opposition to any substantial expansion of Murdoch's holdings.

Cameron, who has enjoyed a close social friendship with some top Murdoch executives, took action after his predecessor, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, gave an emotional televised interview Tuesday describing how Murdoch journalists with ties to the criminal underworld grossly invaded his family's privacy.

Brown said Murdoch's papers, including the Sun and the Sunday Times, had obtained his confidential bank accounts, tax records and even health information about his son, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, using fraudulent, criminal means.

The fact that the scandal reached the prime minister meant ordinary people - like the family of teenage murder victim Milly Dowler - are even more vulnerable to the illegal means used by the Murdoch press, Brown said.

"What about the person, like the family of Milly Dowler, who are in the most desperate of circumstances, the most difficult occasions in their lives, in huge grief and then they find that they are totally defenseless in this moment of greatest grief from people who are employing these ruthless tactics with links to known criminals?" Brown said.

Murdoch's UK company, News International, issued a statement indicating it had gotten the scoop about Brown's son's illness through legitimate means, but the damage had been done.

Brown's allegations - which go far beyond the now shuttered News of the World scandal that kicked off the scandal - seemed to touch a raw nerve, especially with revelations that he was in tears after learning The Sun planned to publish stories about his son's illness, which had been kept within the family.

The anti-Murdoch mood is spreading like a fever through Parliament, where his political influence seems to have disappeared with the setbacks of the last seven days.

Three senior Liberal Democrats - deputy leader Simon Hughes, party president Tim Farron and culture spokesman Don Foster - wrote to Murdoch Tuesday evening urging him to drop his bid for the broadcaster in light of the long-running scandal, which has brought to light revelations of widespread phone hacking and police payoffs at the News of the World, which Murdoch closed Sunday after 168 years.

"News International is simply no longer respected in this country," they wrote. "Given the history of the last six or more years, it should be of little surprise to you that many people in this country have no desire to have any more of our media fall into your hands, tainted as News International is by a history of completely unacceptable journalistic practices."

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