Rupert Murdoch deemed 'not fit' to lead media in Britain. What about US?
A British parliamentary panel found that Rupert Murdoch is 'not fit' to run media giant News Corp. But the question for Congress is: What laws – if any – were broken in the US?
In order to run a television network, a company needs a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), since the airwaves are still considered a part of the public trust.Skip to next paragraph
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News Corporation, the owner of Fox Broadcasting, is now coming under the microscope over whether or not the FCC should look more closely at it in the wake of its phone-hacking scandal in Britain. This week, a British parliamentary committee, in a politically divided decision, said that News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch is “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”
On May 1, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to immediately revoke the 27 Fox licenses on the grounds that broadcast laws can only be used by people of good “character” who will serve “the public interest” with “candor.” At the same time, a US senator has also written to the judge heading up a parallel judicial investigation in Britain to ask if there is any evidence any News Corp. units violated US laws.
However, communications law experts say it is highly unlikely the FCC will step in unless evidence surfaces that Mr. Murdoch’s communications empire was doing phone hacking in the US.
"Whatever happens in Britain, stays in Britain,” says Reed Hundt, former FCC chairman. “The implications of anything happening in the US to Fox and its TV licenses are between slim to none.”
Mr. Hundt, who was appointed to the FCC by President Clinton, says that all of News Corp.’s indiscretions took place in another country some time ago. “There is no evidence of ongoing activities,” he says.
Dallas communications lawyer Evan Fogelman says that the most that might happen is a “perfunctory” look at the News Corp activities, adding, “I would be surprised if there was a licensing issue in the US."
To generate FCC interest, he says would require some revelations that a US subsidiary of News Corp. was hacking into individuals’ private phones, as was done in Britain.
CREW says it's not impossible that phone hacking took place in the US. According to CREW’s letter to the FCC, there were news reports that News of the World – shuttered by Mr. Murdoch as the scandal broke – tried to hack into the voice mails of 9/11 victims.