/ 15 July 2011

US senators call for cross-Atlantic privacy violation probe

Political pressure on Rupert Murdoch has spilled across the Atlantic, with two senators leading calls for a probe into whether Murdoch’s News Corporation broke the United States’s laws in the phone-hacking scandal.

US politicians have warned of “severe” consequences if a report in the London Daily Mirror that the News of the World attempted to access the voicemails of victims of the September 11 2011 terrorist attacks or other Americans is found to be true. The calls for an inquiry were backed by the families of people who died in the World Trade Centre.

“Someone should look into it to see if their rights were violated. The family members I’ve talked to are appalled. They have to relive the pain all over again,” Jim Riches, a former deputy New York fire chief whose son died in the attacks, told Politico.

Senator Frank Lautenberg has asked the Securities and Exchange Commission and the justice department to investigate whether Murdoch’s parent company broke US laws. In a letter to attorney general Eric Holder, Lautenberg said allegations that News of the World journalists bribed British police officers implied a breach of the US’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which bars American companies from paying bribes abroad.

Another senator, Ray Rockefeller, described the activities of Murdoch’s newspapers in Britain as “offensive” and called for an investigation into whether the privacy of Americans had been invaded.

Meanwhile, a powerful group of News Corp’s American shareholders have accused Murdoch of “egregious” behaviour and treating his media empire like a “family candy jar”. The shareholder group, which includes banks and pension funds, also accused Murdoch of “rampant nepotism” and using News Corp’s resources for “his own personal and political objectives”.

The institutional shareholders, led by Amalgamated Bank, said it was “inconceivable” that Murdoch did not know of rampant phone hacking at the News of the World. “Yet the board took no real action to investigate until July 7 2011, when Murdoch selected two of his co-directors to deal with the imbroglio,” the shareholders said in a legal filing in Delaware, where News Corp is registered.

The shareholders noted that Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International and editor of the News of the World at the time of the hacking, was “promoted even while the scandal was unfolding”.

The legal filing is an update to an earlier lawsuit against the appointment of Elisabeth Murdoch to News Corp’s board following the $615-million acquisition of her Shine production company. —