New allegations strike Murdoch media empire
LONDON -- Rupert Murdoch's media empire was besieged Monday by accusations that two more of his British newspapers engaged in privacy violations that included accessing former prime minister Gordon Brown's bank account information and stealing the medical records of his seriously ill baby son.
If proven true, the charges by rival newspapers appear certain to dramatically increase the pressure on Murdoch's News Corp. from a scandal that seems to grow wider and deeper by the hour.
The public outrage began a week ago over wrongdoing at the Murdoch-owned best-selling tabloid News of the World. It has since disrupted the media titan's plans to take over highly profitable satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting and slashed billions off the value of his global conglomerate, News Corp.
In Britain, the scandal has cast a harsh light on the unparalleled political influence of Murdoch's collection of newspaper titles, and is taking an increasing toll on Prime Minister David Cameron. The conservative leader's former communications chief, Andy Coulson, was arrested last week in connection with allegations of payments to police when he was editor of News of the World.
With political pressure rising, a final decision on the multibillion-pound BSKyB takeover was delayed after Murdoch withdrew a promise to spin off news channel Sky News, inviting the British government to refer the bid to authorities charged with enforcing anti-monopoly laws. That is expected to delay any decision on the deal for months.
Analysts said Murdoch's move amounts to a favor for Cameron, sparing the prime minister the possibility of an embarrassing defeat in the House of Commons on Wednesday on a motion from the opposition Labour Party opposing the takeover bid's approval.
The takeover will also be spared scrutiny during a period of once-unimaginable public criticism of Murdoch's British operation, News International, fuled by a relentless stream of new allegations of wrongdoing at its properties.
London's Evening Standard newspaper reported that corrupt royal protection officers threatened national security by selling personal details about Queen Elizabeth II -- including phone numbers and tips about her movements and staff -- to journalists working for Murdoch tabloid News of the World, raising questions over a breach in national security.
The scandal spread beyond the now-defunct tabloid as British media began reporting Monday afternoon that Brown was one of thousands whose privacy was breached by News International papers.
Reports said that Brown's personal details -- including his bank account and his son's medical records -- had been stolen by people working for titles including the Sun and the Sunday Times. Both titles are owned by News International. None of the media cited sources.
The Guardian, which set off the scandal last week with a report that the News of the World had hacked the phone of a kidnapped teenager, said on its website that the Sun had illegally obtained details from the medical records of Brown's 4-year-old son Fraser, who has cystic fibrosis.
The Sun broke the story of Fraser's illness soon after he was born in 2006.
The Guardian reported that News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, then editor of the Sun, had contacted the Browns before publication to say that the paper had details from Fraser's medical file. The Browns were extremely distressed by the story, friends told the Guardian.