(Updates with Coulson arrest, culture department statement, shares starting in third paragraph.)
July 8 (Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister David Cameron said the News Corp. executive running the News of the World when telephones were hacked should have been removed and that it’s up to regulators to decide on the company’s future role in U.K. television broadcasting.
Responding to media reports that News International Chief Executive Officer Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the News of the World, had offered her resignation over the phone-hacking scandal, Cameron told a news conference at his office in London today that “in this situation I would have taken it.”
Andy Coulson, Brooks’s successor as the newspaper’s editor, was arrested by police today, a person familiar with the matter said. Coulson quit earlier this year as Cameron’s head of communications. Under Brooks’s editorship in 2002, a private detective working for the newspaper allegedly deleted messages from the voice mail of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, later found murdered.
News Corp. said yesterday it would close the 168-year-old tabloid after the hacking allegations broadened out to include the relatives of terror victims and war dead. The newspaper was also accused of paying police officers for stories over the past decade. The scandal has mounted as the government reviews News Corp.’s bid to take full control of satellite-television provider British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc.
‘Fit and Proper’
Cameron said that it is up to the media regulator, Ofcom, to decide whether New York-based News Corp. is “fit and proper” to acquire BSkyB. Murdoch’s company has offered 7.8 billion pounds ($12.5 billion) for the 61 percent of BSkyB it doesn’t already own.
“There are proper organizations and procedures,” Cameron said. “It is very important that this is done in the proper way.”
BSkyB dropped as much as 5.9 percent in London trading, the most since December 2008. The shares were down 35 pence, or 4.3 percent, at 777 pence at 11:31 a.m., valuing the company at 13.6 billion pounds.
News Corp., also owner of the Fox TV networks and film studios, the Wall Street Journal newspaper and book publisher HarperCollins, fell 4 cents to $17.43 in Nasdaq Stock Market trading yesterday.
Cameron’s coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, called on Ofcom today to investigate whether it is appropriate for BSkyB to hold a broadcasting license.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said today it anticipates it will take “some time” to consider all the submissions it received on the takeover bid. More than 100,000 have been made.
In deciding on the bid, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt will consider “all relevant factors including whether the announcement regarding the News of the World’s closure has any impact on the question of media plurality,” the department said in an e-mailed statement.
Cameron said the decision to hire Coulson as his director of communications was his own responsibility. Coulson quit his editing job in 2007 after one of its reporters was jailed for phone-hacking.
“The decision to hire him was mine and mine alone and I take full responsibility for it,” he said.
Cameron said that when he gave Coulson a second chance, “at the time I made the decision there had been a police investigation” and “what looked on the surface of it a proper investigation.”
Asked whether police should question Murdoch’s son James, News Corp.’s deputy chief operating officer, Cameron replied that “the police have got the resources and the skill to follow the evidence anywhere it leads, to question anyone, no matter how high or low.”
There are “all sorts of questions to be answered,” Cameron said. The police “shouldn’t feel they are going to be directed away from any individual or towards any individual.”
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--With assistance from Thomas Penny in London. Editors: Eddie Buckle, James Hertling
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