(Repeats analysis filed July 13)
* Three US senators call for investigation into News Corp
* Media pundits debate whether FCC license at risk
* Former Dow Jones stakeholder fears for WSJ reputation
(Adds Christopher Bancroft comment)
By Jennifer Saba and Jasmin Melvin
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, July 13 When Rupert
Murdoch swooped in to buy the Wall Street Journal in 2007, it
sparked fears that the venerable newspaper brand would suffer
by being housed under the same roof as News Corp's (NWSA.O)
Those concerns have again arisen as the widening scandal
over phone-hacking at Murdoch's British newspapers threatens to
spill over to U.S. shores.
"I think the UK hacking scandal has the potential to damage
the Wall Street Journal's reputation," said Jay Ottaway, whose
family owned 6.2 percent of Wall Street Journal publisher Dow
Jones & Co before it was sold to News Corp.
"However, I think it would be unfair since the quality of
the people and reporting at the Wall Street Journal is much
higher (than) at other News Corp newspapers and television
properties," he told Reuters by email. The Ottaway family had
voted against the sale of Dow Jones to Murdoch.
Beyond fears about contaminating the brand of one of the
most-respected newspapers in the United States, the controversy
could also taint Murdoch's broader media business in the United
States, which ranges from print to television to films.
Three U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday urged the Department of
Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission to look into
whether News Corp broke a U.S. law banning payment of bribes to
And some media pundits, including CourtTV founder Steve
Brill, have raised questions over whether News Corp's U.S.
broadcast license could be revoked, given that federal
communications law requires owners of TV stations to be "of
News Corp owns the Fox television stations and cable
network Fox News.
Another former Dow Jones owner, Christopher Bancroft, has
no regrets about selling the Journal to Murdoch.
The Bancrofts were one of the newspaper industry's most
storied stewards until they sold Dow Jones for $5.6 billion to
News Corp after an internal battle that pitted family members
against one another.
"I have to thank Rupert for persisting and for buying the
paper," said Bancroft. "The paper is still very, very good and
it's growing...He hasn't sullied up the paper or changed it to
the point that is unrecognizable and he's protected the
Analysts say it's too early to tell if there will be
serious damage to Murdoch's U.S. business, but these calls
raise the specter that his smeared reputation in Britain could
have ramifications stateside.
"It wouldn't surprise me at all if others call for hearings
and investigations, and perhaps they may even be held. There's
going to be a lot of activity around this issue," said Jeffrey
Silva, analyst with Medley Global Advisors.
"Because News Corp's Fox network is associated with the
political right, any sort of revocation proceedings would be
presented by Republicans as politically motivated and an attack
on free speech," he said, noting the issue is particularly
sensitive ahead of the 2012 U.S. presidential race as
Democratic President Barack Obama seeks re-election.
"It will continue to be controversial and it will fuel
existing partisan fire fights, but I don't think it will lead
to revocation hearings. I don't think it will go that far," he
News Corp's British newspaper arm has been the focus of a
widening investigation into phone-hacking that has roiled the
British political establishment.
The scandal began at the 168-year-old News of the World,
which News Corp shuttered on Sunday, after allegations that it
bribed police officers for information and its journalists
hacked into the voicemail of thousands of people, including a
murdered teenage girl and families of British soldiers killed
News Corp on Wednesday pulled its bid to buy the 61 percent
of British broadcaster BSkyB BSY.L it didn't already own, as
outrage grew. [ID:nLDE76B1RA]
On Tuesday Sen. John D. Rockefeller called for an
investigation of News Corp. He said that he was concerned that
"the admitted phone hacking" may have extended to 9/11 victims
or other Americans.
Senators Barbara Boxer and Frank Lautenberg joined in the
call for an investigation of News Corp.
"The reported allegations against News Corporation are very
serious and indicate potentially thousands of victims and a
pattern of illegal activity," Rockefeller and Boxer wrote in a
letter to the Justice Department and SEC.[ID:nN1E76C1L9]
News Corp and Dow Jones declined to comment.
Analysts said the U.S. Federal Communications Commission
was unlikely to revoke News Corp's licenses for now.
"It's possible that more facts could surface. For example,
someone could bring a complaint to the FCC that News Corp
management knew about the campaign, but even so, it would
likely just be a sideshow," said Rebecca Arbogast, analyst with
Stifel Nicolaus and a former division chief at the FCC.
Arbogast said the standard for revoking a license on
character grounds is high and rarely invoked. "There's no
precedent whether a British conviction would count."
TARRED WITH THE SAME BRUSH?
Most of the spotlight has been on Rebekah Brooks, who was
editor of News of the World between 2000 and 2003, when some of
the most high-profile hacking occurred.
While some companies are contemplating pulling advertising
from Murdoch's British papers, there is little proof that they
are doing the same in the United States. The Wall Street
Journal is the top U.S. paper by circulation and one of the
But attention is now turning to Les Hinton, who headed up
Murdoch's British newspapers during the scandal, and is now
chief executive of Dow Jones. [ID:nL6E7I909A]
"How could it not be a concern?" asked Doug Arthur, a long
time newspaper analyst now with Evercore Partners, about the
potential impact to the Wall Street Journal brand.
"I think the benefit of the Journal is it's above the fray.
It's carved out such a strong reputation for so long," he said,
but added, "You cannot completely separate it from the muck."
(Reporting by Jennifer Saba and Jasmin Melvin; Editing by