CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia’s government may review media laws in the wake of the phone hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s British paper the News of the World, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Thursday, as an influential party demanded a probe into media ownership and regulation.
“To see some of the things that have been done to intrude on people’s privacy, particularly in moments of grief and stress in the family lives, I’ve truly been disgusted to see it,” Gillard told Australia’s National Press Club.
“I anticipate that we will have a discussion amongst parliamentarians about this, about the best review and way of dealing with all of this,” she said.
Australia’s influential Greens Party called on Wednesday for a wide-ranging parliamentary inquiry into media ownership and regulation, and questions Australian-born Murdoch’s domination of the country’s newspapers.
“Following events in Fleet Street (British media), it is very clear that here in Australia there’s sufficient concern about the potentially unrolling of similar events,” Greens Senator Bob Brown told a news conference.
Murdoch’s News Ltd dominates the Australian newspaper industry, commanding nearly three-quarters of daily metropolitan newspaper circulation.
Murdoch’s News Corp has been rocked by allegations that journalists and hired investigators working for its flagship British tabloid the News of the World hacked into the voicemails of thousands of people, from victims of notorious crimes to families of soldiers killed in the war in Afghanistan.
Murdoch shut down the News of the World in a move to contain the damage, but withdrew his bid for broadcaster BSkyB on Wednesday as outrage over alleged crimes at his newspapers galvanized lawmakers who showed a rare unity in the British parliament.
The Australian arm of News Corp on Wednesday said it was launching an investigation into whether there had been any wrongdoing at its editorial operations in recent years.
On Thursday, it denied speculation in Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that Rebekah Brooks, at the center of the hacking storm as former News of the World editor and CEO of News International, might take over one of Murdoch’s interests in Australia. “That’s not true,” News Ltd spokesman Greg Baxter said in the Telegraph.
The Greens have criticized coverage by the Murdoch press of the government’s plans for a carbon tax to fight climate change, claiming it was campaigning against the tax.
Brown suggested Australian media law may need to include a “character test” clause for ownership and also questioned the issue of foreign ownership of Australian media.
“Why (do) we have the biggest concentration of press ownership, and that’s by News (Ltd), in the democratic western world,” asked Brown.
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.
“I think ownership of the media is important. I think Australians would like to see Australian ownership of the media,” said Brown.
Murdoch owns 150 national, capital city and suburban news brands in Australia, which include mass circulation daily tabloids in Sydney (Daily Telegraph) and Melbourne (Sun Herald) and the national daily The Australian.
Murdoch also has a 25 percent stake in pay television operator Foxtel and 30 percent interest in 24-hour news channel Sky News Australia. Sky News TV in Australia is in a battle with the government-owned Australian Broadcasting Corp to run the country’s overseas TV network - Australia Network.
The Greens want a media inquiry to look at whether a new statutory media watchdog, which oversees all media, is required. The parliament will consider the media inquiry issue in August when it next sits.
Australia’s media can often be robust, particularly its tabloid newspapers which occasionally run a political campaign, but their behavior is meek compared with their British counterparts.
In launching an internal inquiry, News Ltd CEO John Hartigan said attempts to link the behavior of the company’s British and Australian outlets was “offensive and wrong.”
He said he had “absolutely no reason to suspect any wrongdoing at News Limited.”
Additional reporting by Michael Smith in Sydney, Sonali Paul in Melbourne, Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Ed Davies and Daniel Magnowski