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US senators query Murdoch as Britain calls for empire break-up

Text by Sophie PILGRIM

Latest update : 2011-11-15

Britain’s opposition leader Ed Miliband called for the break-up of Rupert Murdoch’s “unhealthy” media conglomerate Sunday, banging another nail into the News International coffin. But what of the US where Murdoch’s empire is even more imposing?

Labour leader Ed Miliband called for the breakup of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire Sunday, in his harshest attack on the media mogul yet. On the same day, former News International chief Rebekah Brooks was arrested in London, making Murdoch’s chances of escaping unscathed look increasingly slim.

OPPOSITION CALLS FOR ACTION
Describing Murdoch’s 20% share of the UK newspaper market as “unhealthy”, Miliband told The Observer newspaper that such a “concentration of power is frankly quite dangerous. (…) That amount of power in one person's hands has clearly led to abuses of power within his organisation.”
 
His comments granted him a hero’s title among leftwing commentators, who praised him for his “ahead of the curve” response to the phone-hacking scandal at News International.
 
But for Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative party, the development will only serve as further embarrassment. The PM’s steadfast support for Murdoch – who he defended until just ten days ago – has damaged his reputation. In a survey on the “Murdoch crisis”, Cameron was shown to have lost five points in popularity over the past three weeks, while Miliband gained 13.
 
Pressure mounts across the pond
 
In the US, where Murdoch owns some 26 local newspapers and 48 television channels, support for the tycoon is found in similar political circles. Republican senator John McCain was quick to dismiss the need for a US inquiry into News Corp., in an interview on Sky News – a channel owned by Murdoch himself. “It seems to me that this is a British issue that needs to be resolved first,” he said earlier this week. “I've heard of no evidence or allegation yet of anything being done in the United States of America”.
 
But a number of Democrats are not convinced. After it emerged that News Corp. journalists may have hacked the phones of 9/11 victims, four Democrat senators approached the Department of Justice and Wall Street regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission, demanding an inquiry into hacking and bribing claims at the conglomerate.
 
A Republican member of Congress, Peter King, also made a stand, sending a letter to the director of the FBI on Wednesday afternoon. "The thought that anyone would have hacked into the phones of those who were killed or missing or their family members at that tragic time is contemptible,” he said.
 
John Podesta, president of liberal think tank Centre for American Progress, told Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail Wednesday that the US version of the story was far from over.
 
He described the Murdoch empire as “built on a set of journalistic ethics that's beginning to explode and unravel. They were routinely bribing public officials. We've called attention to the fact that this story is going to go on for a while.”
 
If it is proven that News Corp. violated US anti-bribery provisions, Murdoch could face a penalty of up to 2 million US dollars, and a prison sentence of up to five years.
 
Murdoch, along with his son and business partner James, and possibly Rebekah Brooks, is expected to face a grilling from a UK parliamentary committee this Tuesday. No doubt both the US authorities and US shareholders of News Corp. will be watching very closely.
 
Top photo courtesy of Flickr user Suz-tan under the Creative Commons license.

 

Date created : 2011-07-17

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