Comments by the Prime Minister David Cameron this morning make it more likely that Ofcom will step in sooner rather than later to apply the ‘fit and proper person(s)’ test of the Broadcasting Act to News Corp in its bid for BSkyB in the light of the News International voice mail hacking scandal.
Speaking ahead of a press conference Cameron, in mea culpa mode on behalf of government, reiterated that the Department of Culture Media and Sport was constrained by ‘the process’ but he also emphasised there was a role the independent regulator.
Asked directly what thought about the BSkyB deal he said “there are proper independent organisations to judge on competition and plurality and the fit and proper test – they must all do their jobs based on the relevant and most up to date information.”
Ofcom had already implied it could step in but also indicated it may need to wait for the conclusion of the police investigation. Many observers said this was an unworkable approach as the investigation and subsequent trials may take years. The Prime Minister has effectively given a political green light for Ofcom to act now.
News Corp later issued a statement saying it noted the PM’s comments and added its priority was to cooperate with the appropriate authorities.
The pressure was further ratcheted up mid-morning when, as predicted, Andy Coulson, former editor of the News Of The World who was then hired by Cameron as Communications Director, was arrested on charges of phone hacking and conspiracy in corrupting polic officers.