Call for News review in Australia after hacking scandal

9th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

The phone hacking scandal rocking Rupert Murdoch's News Corp threatened to spread to Australia Saturday with calls for an official inquiry, which could hurt his play for a major television contract.

Murdoch's global News International empire had its humble beginnings in Australia, and the Australian-born media baron is seeking to expand his already vast local holdings with a bid for the public broadcaster's international arm.

Claims that Murdoch's News of the World, Britain's biggest-selling Sunday paper, hacked into the voicemails of a murdered girl and the families of dead soldiers have already cast a shadow over his bid for British network BSkyB.

And a call from Australia's influential Greens party for an inquiry into local Murdoch firm News Limited could put a similar purchase of the Aus$223 million Australia Network, an international television service, into doubt.

Greens leader Bob Brown lodged a notice in parliament late Thursday that he intended to call for an official inquiry into News Limited to satisfy the Australian public that its work practices did not echo those used in London.

When parliament resumes in mid-August following the winter recess, Brown said he would urge the communications minister to order a review of Murdoch's Australian group, which has a virtual monopoly over the newspaper industry.

"The operations here come under the umbrella of News International and we've got greater newspaper ownership concentration than any other country, with eight of the (nation's) 12 metropolitan dailies owned by Rupert Murdoch," Brown told AFP.

"It's important that we establish beyond statements of News International itself that the methods that have been used and have outraged the world at News of the World haven't been and won't be part of newsgathering in Australia."

There is no "fit and proper person" test required to run Australia Network, which is partly funded by the Australian government and screens in more than 44 countries across the Asia-Pacific and the Indian subcontinent.

News Limited has distanced itself from the phone hacking scandal, with chief John Hartigan strongly condemning the claims and expressing his confidence that "the practices that have been uncovered in the UK do not exist in Australia."

But Brown said management assurances were not enough, given the enormity of the scandal, and it was important "for the media itself that the air is cleared" so the Australian public could be reassured.

"We have to -- and I do assume -- that nothing untoward has happened in Australia," Brown said.

"But I think it is such a huge implosion of ethics in the biggest-selling newspaper in the UK that we just need to sensibly, for the public good and reassurance, make sure that Australia's been totally free of any such methods."

Brown's minority Greens party has an unprecedented amount of influence in Australian politics, holding deciding votes in both the lower and upper houses after taking a record 11.46 percent of the vote in last year's elections.

"These are very serious questions, and it's very clear that if this were a political scandal involving a politician or political party the Murdoch press would be relentless in ascribing responsibility to the people at the top," said Brown, whose own relationship with News Limited is famously strained.

© 2011 AFP

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