'Hard questions' for News Corp in Australia: PM

20th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Wednesday warned Rupert Murdoch's Australian arm it faced some "hard questions" as calls intensified for a media inquiry following the British hacking scandal.

Gillard declined to comment on Murdoch's grilling by British MPs over the outcry that saw him close tabloid News of the World and dump his bid for satellite broadcaster BSkyB, but said the Australian public was concerned.

"I'm not going to engage in running commentary on testimony but I do believe Australians... are looking at News Limited here and are wanting to see News Limited answer some hard questions," the prime minister said.

The Australian operation of Murdoch's News Corp, News Limited, dominates the local media, with extensive newspaper, television, Internet and other holdings.

Its Australian chief John Hartigan hit back at the prime minister's comments, describing them as "unjustified and regrettable".

"There is absolutely no connection between events in the UK and our business in Australia," he said in a statement. "There is no evidence that similar behaviour has occurred at News in Australia."

News Limited has launched a review of all payments made over the past three years to ensure they were legitimate and Hartigan said the company would be happy to respond to any questions from Gillard.

"No one is more appalled or is more concerned about what has happened in the UK than we are," he said.

Hartigan has also vowed to cooperate with any Australian media inquiry after Greens party leader Bob Brown said he would call for a review of ownership and regulation -- a bid backed Wednesday by Australia's journalists' union.

Gillard indicated she was open to the idea, and said the scale of what happened in Britain prompted reflection in Australia.

"I'm certainly not making any conclusions, quite the reverse," she said.

"All I'm saying is when... people have seen telephones hacked into, when people have seen individuals grieving (who) have to deal with all of this, then I do think that causes them to ask some questions here in our country, some questions about News Limited here.

"And obviously News Limited's got a responsibility to answer those questions when they're asked."

Brown wants the government to convene a parliamentary or independent inquiry to examine media ownership, regulation and privacy issues following the News Corp scandal.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland has ruled out regulating the media.

Murdoch controls about two-thirds of Australia's regional and metropolitan newspapers, has a stake in broadcasters Sky News and Fox Sports, and is angling to run the Australia Network, the international public TV channel.

Australia's conservative opposition said most people would accept Murdoch's apology and "take him at his word", rejecting untoward practices here "whether by News Ltd journalists or anybody else."

The nation's journalists' union said it was not aware of any illegal conduct, but said an inquiry into the industry was timely.

"I havent heard anything to suggest that journalists in Australian newsrooms would stoop to the sleazy and criminal methods employed by some of their UK counterparts," said Chris Warren, head of the Media Alliance.

He added that Australia had the most concentrated media ownership in the developed world and needed to think about ways to encourage the growth of smaller players to foster greater diversity.

© 2011 AFP

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