News / Asia

News Corp Phone-Hacking Crisis Spreads to Australia

The mastheads of News Corp owned newspapers are displayed above a news agents in Melbourne, July 15, 2011
The mastheads of News Corp owned newspapers are displayed above a news agents in Melbourne, July 15, 2011

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday the Justice Department is reviewing requests from lawmakers in Washington for a probe into Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation following the British phone-hacking scandal. Holder is on an official trip to Australia, which is also considering an inquiry into media ownership laws. A News Corporation subsidiary, News Limited, is the dominant player in Australia’s newspaper industry.

Members of the U.S. Congress are demanding an investigation into allegations that News Corporation has illegally hacked phones in the United States.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters in Sydney that those requests are being closely considered.

"While there have been serious allegations raised in that regard in Great Britain and there is an ongoing investigation there, as is appropriate, there have been members of Congress in the United States that have asked us to investigate those same allegations and we are progressing in that regard, using the appropriate federal law enforcement agencies in the United States," he said.

Holder's remarks follow the launch of an FBI probe Thursday into claims that the British tabloid The News of the World contacted a private investigator in the United States in a bid to access phone records of 9/11 victims.

The FBI inquiries are preliminary in nature and do not constitute a formal investigation, but the development puts more pressure on Rupert Murdoch's media empire.

In Australia, where the tycoon was born, the government says it may review its media laws because of the British phone hacking scandal.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited is the most powerful media organization in Australia, but it is now coming under unprecedented scrutiny. Some legislators have questioned the company’s domination of the newspaper industry and are demanding an official investigation into its operations. They say the Australian public is worried that phone hacking could have taken place here, although it has yet to find any evidence. In Canberra, the government says it may review media ownership laws and other regulations.

Speaking Thursday at the National Press Club, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she had been sickened by the News of the World scandal.

“Like I think most Australians, I’ve been pretty shocked and disgusted to see the revelations that we’ve seen in the United Kingdom," said Gillard. "I think we will have a long debate about media ethics in this country but if I could put it as clearly I can, I’d say to you don’t write crap.”

The chief executive of News Limited, John Hartigan, responded to the controversy by saying he believed his employees have behaved honorably.

“I know the newsrooms, I know how cultures develop and I'm hugely confident that there is no improper or unethical behavior in our newsrooms,” he said.

The News Limited chief has also said that the phone hacking scandal was “an affront” to good journalism.

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch and his son James have agreed to answer questions from British members of parliament next week, after initially refusing to do so.

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