News Corp Australian arm launches probe

SYDNEY Wed Jul 13, 2011 9:23am EDT

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The Australian arm of News Corp is launching an investigation into whether there was any wrongdoing at its editorial operations in recent years after the phone hacking scandal at its UK operations.

John Hartigan, chairman and CEO of News Limited, said in a note to staff that some commentators, media outlets and politicians had tried to connect the behavior in the UK with conduct in Australia, which he said was "offensive and wrong."

He said he had "absolutely no reason to suspect any wrongdoing at News Limited."

Still, he said the company would conduct a "thorough review" of all editorial expenditure over the past three years to confirm payments were for legitimate services.

"I believe it is essential that we can all have absolute confidence that ethical work practices are a fundamental requirement of employment at News Limited," Hartigan said.

News Corp has been rocked by a series of scandals alleging that journalists and hired investigators working for its flagship News of the World tabloid hacked into the voicemails of thousands of people, some of them victims of notorious crimes, in search of stories, and that they also bribed police officers for information.

News Corp shut down News of the World this past Sunday in a move to contain damage but those efforts appeared to be failing on Wednesday as Britain's parliament was set to tell media tycoon Rupert Murdoch to drop an expansion plan for his media empire while police probe possible crimes by his journalists.

Australia's influential Greens Party has called on the government to investigate Rupert Murdoch's Australian media empire after the phone hacking scandal.

The Greens, who hold the balance of power in the upper house of parliament and whose political backing is vital to the minority Labor government, asked for an official inquiry into News Corp's local operations.

"We have the most Murdoch media ownership of any country in the world with eight of the 12 metropolitan dailies owned by the Murdoch empire," party leader Bob Brown told Reuters last week.

"I think that it's just prudent to take a raincheck at this stage, because the events unfolding in London are so serious, and it would be irresponsible for us not to look at the potential for similar operations to have occurred in Australia," Brown said.

Australian-born Murdoch, who now has U.S. citizenship, started his global media empire in Adelaide when he inherited the now defunct Adelaide News from his father, Sir Keith Murdoch.

He then begun an acquisition spree and remains Australia's most powerful newspaper owner, with interests that include The Australian, a national broadsheet, and The Daily Telegraph, the country's biggest-selling tabloid. Murdoch's company also has a 30 percent interest in 24-hour news channel Sky News Australia.

Brown said he had no reason to believe News Limited had engaged in similar behavior in Australia to the "unfolding horror at News of the World" and said his motion was unrelated to tensions between the Greens and Murdoch papers in Australia.

News Limited mastheads have been critical of both the government and the Greens over plans to introduce a carbon price and have waged a campaign also against Prime Minister Julia Gillard's economic record and a coming mining profits tax.

(Reporting by Ed Davies; Editing by Balazs Koranyi and Sugita Katyal)

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