Could News Corp lose its Fox TV licences?

Murdoch's US interests are coming under greater scrutiny.

Since the Murdochs returned to the front pages, Labour has taken every opportunity to focus attention on Ofcom's investigation into whether  News Corporation is a "fit and proper" owner of the broadcasting licence held by BSkyB. In her numerous interviews on Jeremy Hunt last week, Harriet Harman persistently returned to this subject. Today, on The World At One, Ed Miliband urged Ofcom to "add urgency" to its investigation (the regulator replied that it would not be "rushed into a knee-jerk reaction"). The resultant impression is that Labour is determined for News Corp to lose its lucrative 39.1 per cent stake in BSKyB, a £6.6bn company.

Yesterday's MPs' report, which leads today's editions of the New York Times and the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal, means that News Corp's US broadcasting interests have also come under scrutiny for the first time since the scandal broke. A political watchdog, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has written to federal regulators calling on them to revoke the company's 27 Fox broadcast licences. The letter states:

The House of Commons report makes clear that both Rupert and James Murdoch were complicit in New Corp.’s illegal activities.  If the Murdochs don’t meet the British standards of character test, it is hard to see how they can meet the American standard.

Under Federal Communications Commission regulations, only people with "good character who serve the public interest" can run broadcast frequencies.

Some will dismiss the letter as a fringe protest by an anti-Murdoch group but it's worth remembering that most on the right said much the same about the Guardian's investigation into phone-hacking. If Ofcom concludes that News Corp is not a "fit and proper" shareholder of BSkyB it is no longer unthinkable that the company's US interests could come under threat.

Fox News Chairman & CEO Roger Ailes. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How the shadow cabinet forced Jeremy Corbyn not to change Labour policy on Syria air strikes

Frontbenchers made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the leader backed down. 

Jeremy Corbyn had been forced to back down once before the start of today's shadow cabinet meeting on Syria, offering Labour MPs a free vote on air strikes against Isis. By the end of the two-hour gathering, he had backed down twice.

At the start of the meeting, Corbyn's office briefed the Guardian that while a free would be held, party policy would be changed to oppose military action - an attempt to claim partial victory. But shadow cabinet members, led by Andy Burnham, argued that this was "unacceptable" and an attempt to divide MPs from members. Burnham, who is not persuaded by the case for air strikes, warned that colleagues who voted against the party's proposed position would become targets for abuse, undermining the principle of a free vote.

Jon Ashworth, the shadow minister without portfolio and NEC member, said that Labour's policy remained the motion passed by this year's conference, which was open to competing interpretations (though most believe the tests it set for military action have been met). Party policy could not be changed without going through a similarly formal process, he argued. In advance of the meeting, Labour released a poll of members (based on an "initial sample" of 1,900) showing that 75 per cent opposed intervention. 

When Corbyn's team suggested that the issue be resolved after the meeting, those present made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the Labour leader had backed down. By the end, only Corbyn allies Diane Abbott and Jon Trickett argued that party policy should be changed to oppose military action. John McDonnell, who has long argued for a free vote, took a more "conciliatory" approach, I'm told. It was when Hilary Benn said that he would be prepared to speak from the backbenches in the Syria debate, in order to avoid opposing party policy, that Corbyn realised he would have to give way. The Labour leader and the shadow foreign secretary will now advocate opposing positions from the frontbench when MPs meet, with Corbyn opening and Benn closing. 

The meeting had begun with members, including some who reject military action, complaining about the "discorteous" and "deplorable" manner in which the issue had been handled. As I reported last week, there was outrage when Corbyn wrote to MPs opposing air strikes without first informing the shadow cabinet (I'm told that my account of that meeting was also raised). There was anger today when, at 2:07pm, seven minutes after the meeting began, some members received an update on their phones from the Guardian revealing that a free vote would be held but that party policy would be changed to oppose military action. This "farcical moment", in the words of one present (Corbyn is said to have been unaware of the briefing), only hardened shadow cabinet members' resolve to force their leader to back down - and he did. 

In a statement released following the meeting, a Corbyn spokesperson confirmed that a free vote would be held but made no reference to party policy: 

"Today's Shadow Cabinet agreed to back Jeremy Corbyn's recommendation of a free vote on the Government's proposal to authorise UK bombing in Syria.   

"The Shadow Cabinet decided to support the call for David Cameron to step back from the rush to war and hold a full two day debate in the House of Commons on such a crucial national decision.  

"Shadow Cabinet members agreed to call David Cameron to account on the unanswered questions raised by his case for bombing: including how it would accelerate a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war; what ground troops would take territory evacuated by ISIS; military co-ordination and strategy; the refugee crisis and the imperative to cut-off of supplies to ISIS."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.