UK government split over News Corp. case

Associated Press
Britain's Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, center, looks on as Prime Minister David Cameron speeks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London Wednesday June 13, 2012. Britain’s coalition government is split on whether to back a Conservative minister over the way he dealt with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The British media, including Press Association, say Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has asked his lawmakers to abstain on a vote Wednesday afternoon on whether Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt should be investigated over how he dealt with News Corp. as it was trying to take full control of a satellite broadcaster in which News Corp. already holds a 39 percent stake.   (AP Photo/PA Wire)  UNITED KINGDOM OUT

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LONDON (AP) — British lawmakers will vote Wednesday on whether to investigate the culture minister over allegations he favored Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. in its bid to take control of a satellite broadcaster, with the coalition government split on whether to back him.

Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has asked his legislators to abstain on a vote on whether Jeremy Hunt should be investigated by a standards watchdog over News Corp.'s effort to take full control of BSkyB, in which it holds a 39 percent stake. Hunt's adviser stepped down after messages he had sent to a News Corp. lobbyist were made public at an inquiry into media ethics. The opposition Labour Party claims than Hunt, too, secretly aided News Corp.'s bid — a claim both Hunt and Prime Minister David Cameron deny.

Relations between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, coalition partners since 2010, have become strained over disagreements on austerity measures, political reform and Britain's position on Europe. The vote on whether to back Hunt, who also has responsibility for the London Olympics, highlights how the two parties differed in the way they dealt with Murdoch.

Cameron told lawmakers Wednesday that Conservatives and Labour had both had close relationships with Murdoch's media over the years, but that Liberal Democrats had kept their distance. He said the Liberal Democrat decision to abstain "is to make that point."

The parliamentary debate is the latest twist in Britain's long running phone hacking scandal, which exploded last year when it emerged that reporters at Murdoch's News of the World tabloid, had hacked into the voicemails of celebrities, politicians and people thrust into the public eye.

Murdoch abandoned his bid for BSkyB amid the scandal, which has rocked his media empire and triggered a judge-led public inquiry and three police investigations, in which more than 40 people have been arrested. It also prompted Cameron to set up an inquiry into media ethics, where details of Hunt and his adviser's relationship with News Corp. were first revealed last month.

The debate comes as Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of Murdoch's News International, appeared in court on charges of attempting to cover up evidence of phone hacking. She was granted bail at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London until a court appearance next week.

Brooks, 44, was charged last month with three counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice — an offense that carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Prosecutors say she removed boxes of material from the News International archive and tried to conceal documents, computers and other material from police.

Brooks, who edited News of the World between 2000 and 2003, denies the offenses.

Brooks' husband Charlie Brooks, along with her personal assistant, her chauffeur, and two News international security personnel also were granted bail until a hearing at Southwark Crown Court on June 22.

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