News Corp’s big week: email hack inquiry ahead of critical report

A pivotal week in which News Corp’s ruling Murdochs will again be hauled over the coals and criticised by the UK’s parliament began on Monday when a new hacking timebomb was laid in front of James and Rupert.

  • The father and son were already scheduled to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry in to UK press standards over Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning.
  • Parliament’s culture select committee is due on May 1 to publish its long-awaited report in to phone hacking – expected to criticise James’ management.
  • And on Monday communications regulator Ofcom said it is investigating whether email hacking at News Corp’s Sky News TV channel breaches its code prohibiting “any infringement of privacy”.

Sky News head John Ryley recently admitted to the hacking as “very clearly in the public interest”. But, appearing on Monday at the same committee which the Murdochs will grace later this week, Ryley was told by Lord Leveson: “A criminal offence doesn’t have a public interest defence.”

Breach of privacy, as a lesser, civil offence, may arguably carry a public interest defence, Leveson told Ryley, who conceded he had only sketchy knowledge of the Misuse Of Computers Act and the Regulation Of Investigatory Powers Act which govern computer and phone hacking respectively.

News Corp in 2010 launched a bid to buy the 39.1 percent of Sky News operator BSkyB which it did not already own, a move which would move the conglomerate further in to pay-TV, ISP, telco and multi-platform content operations.

But it withdrew its bid a year later as the phone hacking furore surrounding News Corp’s News International engulfed the company.

Ofcom regulates UK broadcasting standards and spectrum, owners of which must satisfy its qualifier of “fit and proper” operators. Its Sky News inquiry matters because further stink threatens to drag BSkyB in to News Corp’s mire and to make any return to the acquisition attempt less likely.

It also makes for an additional talking point for the Murdochs this week.

Ryley also told Leveson: “It’s highly unlikely, in the future, that Sky would consider breaking the law. I am pretty much ruling it out. But journalism is, at times, a tough business – at times, we need to shed light in to wrongdoing.”

After the parliamentary committee publishes its report on May 1, News Corp will have just one week to react before it must speak with investment analysts when it unveils Q3 earnings on May 9.