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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?

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In an interview, Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, says she understands the FBI is looking into the issue at the request of Rep. Peter King (R) of New York. “It’s not like it’s impossible,” she says, pointing out that News of the World employees hacked into the cellphone of murder victim 13-year-old Milly Dowler in Britain, as well as the phones of British soldiers in Afghanistan.

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Ms. Sloan says the inquiry in Britain also found that News Corp. journalists had allegedly bribed police officers to get information. This could be a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which bars US companies from bribing foreign officials.

“They likely were violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” she alleges.

On Wednesday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) of West Virginia sent a letter to Lord Justice Brian Leveson, who is leading the special judicial investigation into phone hacking and other alleged illegal activities by News Corp. in Britain, asking if there is any new information suggesting illegal conduct in the US. Senator Rockefeller is chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over communications issues in the US.

Responding to criticism that the watchdog group took on Fox because of its conservative politics, Sloan said: “Those are commentators on the air, and they have different standards,” says Sloan. “This has nothing to do with content, only the character of Rupert and James Murdoch.”

Jack Horner, a spokesman for News Corp., says the company has no comment.

Immediately after the release of the parliamentary committee report on Tuesday, News Corp. said it acknowledged “significant wrongdoing” at News of the World and apologized to people whose privacy had been invaded. The company has been making private financial settlements with some of the victims.

On Wednesday, the News Corp. Board of Directors announced its “full confidence” in Murdoch’s fitness and unanimously issued support for him.

According to a letter sent by Sloan, federal courts have upheld the FCC’s consideration of character in making license determination as reasonable and appropriate. “The FCC may consider an applicant’s past conduct, including non-broadcast conduct, as a guide to how the applicant is likely to operate a broadcast station in the future,” wrote Sloan. “In looking at misconduct, the FCC must consider whether misconduct is isolated or represents a pattern of misbehavior, as well as how recently it occurred.”

The FCC has rarely acted to remove a company’s broadcast license. In the 1980s, the FCC began a long process to strip RKO of its broadcast licenses for lack of candor. In 1987, an administrative law judge ruled that RKO was unfit to hold its licenses because of a long history of deceptive practices. RKO eventually sold its broadcast unit.

“It’s rare for the FCC to act on these cases, but this seems to be the case they should act on,” says Sloan.

An FCC spokesman, Neil Derek Grace, said the agency would have no comment.

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