Reporting from London — Embattled media magnate Rupert Murdoch's bid for control of Britain's biggest satellite broadcaster ran into further trouble Monday, even as new reports surfaced that a former prime minister and senior members of the royal family were possible targets of a phone-hacking campaign by journalists.
Murdoch's long-running attempt to add satellite TV company BSkyB to his News Corp. media conglomerate faces several months of delay after the British government decided to refer the $12-billion bid to regulators charged with determining whether allowing ownership by Murdoch would violate anti-monopoly rules.
The move was triggered by News Corp.'s withdrawal of its pledge to spin off the Sky News channel from BSkyB as a condition for acquiring the satellite broadcaster. News Corp. said Monday that it was scrapping its promise because it was confident that media competition would not be compromised if it held on to Sky News as part of a takeover.
The government has been under heavy pressure to put off a decision on the bid since the hacking scandal escalated dramatically last week, as a result of allegations that the Murdoch-owned News of the World tabloid broke into the cellphones of a kidnapped schoolgirl and the families of fallen soldiers in addition to the phones of celebrities and politicians.
More than 100,000 people have sent messages to officials opposing the BSkyB takeover bid. On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg became the highest-ranking member of the government to call on Murdoch, who is in London to deal with the scandal, to withdraw News Corp.'s bid for BSkyB altogether.
"Look how people feel about this," Clegg said, urging Murdoch to "do the decent and sensible thing and reconsider."
Also Monday, the Guardian newspaper reported that Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and his wife, Camilla, may have been targeted by the News of the World's cellphone hackers. Charles' sons, William and Harry, were already known to be victims of phone hacking; the tabloid's royal-family reporter was jailed in 2007 for illegally intercepting voicemails left by the two younger princes for their aides.
In addition, the BBC said that a police officer on the royal family's security team is suspected of having accepted bribes from the News of the World in exchange for the phone numbers of members of the royal household, including Queen Elizabeth II, and their entourage.
And former Prime Minister Gordon Brown is now alleging that journalists from the Sunday Times and the Sun, both Murdoch-owned newspapers, not only tried to hack into his voicemails but also attempted to gain access to his family's financial and medical details by impersonating him in phone calls to banks and other institutions.
The spiraling allegations deal another blow to Murdoch and News Corp. To limit the damage, News Corp.'s British subsidiary, News International, took the drastic step last week of closing the News of the World.
The tabloid published its last issue Sunday after 168 years in existence. The hacking allegations are the focus of one of the biggest investigations now underway at Scotland Yard.