LONDON, March 27 (Reuters) - A British lawmaker is to demand that the TV watchdog probes new hacking claims against News Corp , piling more pressure on BSkyB chairman James Murdoch whose fitness to own a broadcast licence is already under scrutiny.
A BBC documentary broadcast late on Monday alleged that NDS, a pay-TV smartcard maker recently sold by News Corp, hired a consultant to post the encryption codes of ITV Digital, a key rival of BSkyB, on his website.
The online publication of the codes contributed to the 2002 collapse of ITV Digital, which had been set up by ITV, Britain’s leading free-to-air commercial broadcaster, in 1998.
BSkyB, Britain’s dominant pay-TV broadcaster, is 39 percent owned by News Corp.
NDS said in a statement: “As part of the fight against pay-TV piracy, all companies in the conditional access industry and many law enforcement agencies come to possess codes that could enable hackers to access services for free. It is wrong to claim that NDS has ever been in the possession of any codes for the purpose of promoting hacking or piracy.”
News Corp said: “NDS has consistently denied any wrongdoing to (BBC programme) Panorama and we fully accept their assurances.”
Regulator Ofcom is already investigating both Murdoch and News Corp in the light of new evidence emerging from probes into phone and computer hacking and bribery at the News of the World tabloid, which News Corp shut down last July.
“These allegations, if true, are the most serious yet and I am referring the matter to Ofcom, who have a duty to investigate as part of their fit and proper test,” member of parliament Tom Watson said of the claims made in the BBC’s Panorama programme.
“If what Panorama says is true it suggests a global conspiracy to undermine a great British company, ITV Digital,” he told Reuters on Tuesday.
An Ofcom spokesman declined to comment on the specific allegations but said the regulator would consider “all relevant evidence” as part of its ongoing duty to be satisfied that the owner of the licence was fit and proper.
Watson is known for his dogged questioning of James Murdoch and his father Rupert, for their role in the phone-hacking affair, notoriously comparing James to a Mafia boss when he appeared before a parliamentary committee investigating the hacking.
The committee has been due since early this year to present a report based on its investigations, which is expected to be critical of James Murdoch and may determine whether he has a future in Britain.
Watson said the report was now unlikely to be published before the Easter holiday on April 8. He said the new revelations were unlikely to affect the committee’s work, since they were not part of its remit.
James Murdoch was not involved in News Corp’s UK newspaper operations when the phone-hacking took place at the News of the World but is under scrutiny for failing to uncover the scale of the problem when he took charge there shortly afterwards.
Murdoch is now based in New York following his promotion to deputy chief operating officer of News Corp last year, and is focusing on the conglomerate’s pay-TV businesses. He severed all ties with the UK newspapers earlier this month.
NDS, whose technology is used by BSkyB and News Corp pay-TV operators including Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland, was sold by News Corp and private equity firm Permira to Cisco this month for $5 billion.
The deal is expected to close in the second half of 2012.