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Tabloid hacking scandal explodes in Great Britain

| Thursday, July 7, 2011

LONDON -- Lawmakers, advertisers and outraged citizens turned up the heat on British tabloid News of the World as more accusations surfaced on Wednesday of possible hacking attempts by the paper into cell phones belonging to the relatives of victims of criminal and terrorist attacks.

Prime Minister David Cameron backed calls for public inquiries into the reporting practices and ethics of journalists at the News of the World and into why a previous police investigation failed to uncover the allegations now emerging. But those inquiries would have to wait until the current police investigation is completed, Cameron said.

The British leader expressed revulsion at the possibility that a private investigator hired by the tabloid had targeted the phones of family members of three murdered English schoolgirls and victims of the 2005 suicide attacks on the London transport system, which killed 52 people six years ago. Previously, the hacking allegations centered on the cell phones of movie stars, athletes and other famous figures.

"We are no longer talking here about politicians and celebrities. We are talking about murder victims, potentially terrorist victims, having their phones hacked into. It is absolutely disgusting," Cameron told Parliament, which convened a three-hour emergency debate on the issue.

Cameron's comments came on a day of multiple developments in a scandal that has morphed virtually overnight from a low-boil affair involving the rich and famous into Topic A of the national conversation.

Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire businessman whose global media empire includes the News of the World, moved to contain what has become a huge public relations nightmare, issuing a statement that called the alleged hacking "deplorable and unacceptable."

He reiterated the commitment of News International, the parent company of the News of the World, to cooperate with the police investigation and expressed his confidence in the leadership of Rebekah Brooks, the head of News International and one of his closest confidantes.

But Murdoch's assurances are unlikely to dampen the public anger that is engulfing his British operations and that could threaten his attempt to expand his footprint on the media landscape here by taking over satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

A clutch of companies announced that they were withdrawing their advertisements in the News of the World, including Halifax bank and carmakers Ford, Vauxhall and Mitsubishi. On Facebook and Twitter, ordinary Britons urged their compatriots to boycott Murdoch's properties such as the Times of London and the Sun, Britain's bestselling tabloid.

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