News Corp.'s woes in Britain reignite calls for scrutiny in U.S.
A Parliament report critical of News Corp., its Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son Deputy Chief Operating Officer James Murdoch for their response to the ethics scandal at its British newspapers will give new fuel to the company's critics in the United States.
One activist group already is demanding that the Federal Communications Commission strip News Corp.'s Fox unit of the licenses it holds to operate 27 television stations in the United States.
“The House of Commons report makes clear that both Rupert and James Murdoch were complicit in New Corp.’s illegal activities," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "If the Murdochs don’t meet the British standards of character test, it is hard to see how they can meet the American standard.”
Eric Boehlert of Media Matters, a nonprofit media watchdog group, compared Rupert Murdoch to Richard Nixon.
"Both practiced partisan hardball but quickly cast themselves as victims when law enforcement started to ask difficult questions," Boehlert wrote. "For Murdoch and Nixon, the rules did not apply, as breaking the law became commonplace in the pursuit of the ultimate goal -- serving enemies with payback. And like Nixon, Murdoch's reputation has suffered a fatal blow in the form of a botched cover-up."
The FCC declined to comment on the Parliament report or whether it would spark its own investigation into News Corp.'s fitness to hold broadcast licenses in the United States.
One communications attorney said a challenge to Fox's broadcast licenses would face a long, uphill climb, unless Murdoch were arrested or found guilty of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits paying a government official for commercial gain.
"Based on what has happened today and what is known today, I don’t see any material risks to the licenses," said John Hane of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.
Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said the renewal process for broadcasters is not as tough as it should be and that he hopes the Parliament report will at least lead the FCC to take a harder look and not just rubber-stamp News Corp.'s renewal applications.
"This should be a wake-up call," Copps said. "These are the kinds of problems when too much media is held in too few hands."
The U.S. Department of Justice has been conducting its own probe into whether there is any evidence of wrongdoing by News Corp. newspapers here. If the Justice Department were to uncover illegal activities in the United States or determine that the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was violated by News Corp., that could force the FCC to take an aggressive stance on the renewals.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Rupert and James Murdoch in happier times. Credit: Adrian Dennis / AFP/Getty Images.