In a sign of the strain News Corp.'s continuing phone-hacking saga is placing on Britain's governing coalition, the Liberal Democrats broke ranks Wednesday with Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party over a government minister's handling of the media giant's bid for a pay-TV broadcaster.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the coalition's junior partners, the Liberal Democrats, told his members to abstain in a parliamentary vote over whether the Conservative culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, broke ministerial code while acting in a regulatory oversight role of News Corp.'s 2010 bid for British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC, which ultimately failed.
The Conservatives succeeded in rallying their politicians to vote down the motion, which called for an inquiry into Mr. Hunt. But the vote raises questions about whether Conservative politicians will retaliate against Liberal Democrats down the road against what some see as a betrayal.
The opposition Labour Party, which proposed the vote, has repeatedly demanded that Mr. Hunt resign after indications surfaced during a media-ethics inquiry here that the minister—who was performing in a quasijudicial role—was favorable to the bid. The culture secretary has said he was sympathetic to the News Corp. bid before his work on the deal began, but that he acted impartially during the regulatory process.
Meanwhile, the former head of News Corp.'s U.K. newspaper unit, Rebekah Brooks, appeared in a London court Wednesday to face charges of conspiring to obstruct justice by impeding the criminal investigation into phone hacking and bribery of public officials. Appearing alongside Ms. Brooks, and also charged with conspiring to obstruct justice, were her husband, her former assistant, her former chauffeur as well as the head of security at News International and another man who provided security for Ms. Brooks.
The court set bail conditions and released the defendants until their next hearing on June 22. A lawyer for her chauffeur declined to comment. The others have denied the charges either publicly or through their lawyers.
News Corp. is the parent company of Fox News.