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LONDON – The House of Commons has taken the unusual step of issuing a formal summons to James and Rupert Murdoch after they declined an invitation to answer questions on the phone-hacking scandal from a Parliamentary committee.
The decision to trigger the Parliamentary summons has come as pressure continues to mount on the Murdoch family, as the sheer number of official investigations that have opened up into the phone-hacking scandal look set to swallow up swathes of News Corporation’s management time.
Pressure is also mounting on James Murdoch, who chairs BSkyB, to step down from his role as further arrests are made in the police inquiry into illegal phone-hacking at News International.
Although the majority of shareholders have supported the status quo, corporate governance advisory firm Pirc said Thursday that shareholders should act to compel James Murdoch to step down.
“Questionable governance practices have been tolerated at BSkyB for a long time, and unfortunately many shareholders have not effectively challenged them. That must change,” said Ian MacDougall.
“It is time for the board to review whether BSkyB and its shareholders would benefit from a new, independent chair. And if shareholders agree it is time for reform, they should say so,” he added. The House of Common’s official representative, the Sergeant at Arms, has been dispatched to News International’s East London headquarters to deliver the summons personally to the News Corp. chairman and his son, the News Corp deputy chief operating officer.
Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International has already agreed to appear at the session Tuesday July 17, although she has cautioned MPs that she may not be able to answer some of their questions, pending a police inquiry into her role in the phone-hacking scandal.
Earlier, James Murdoch had agreed to appear before the committee, but not until August, while Rupert Murdoch had said he would co-operate with the Judicial Inquiries announced by David Cameron last week.
A wide-ranging police investigation is currently ongoing and media regulator Ofcom is examining whether News Corporation itself passes the “fit and proper” ownership criteria for a U.K. TV license holder, in respect of the allegations that criminal activity and bribery were routine at its sister organization.
If Ofcom find against News Corp. it could force the company to sell its existing 31 percent in BSkyB.
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