A prominent US senator has called for an inquiry into News Corp, the first indication that the scandal that hit the media organisation’s UK newspapers could spread to the US.
Jay Rockefeller, head of the powerful Senate commerce committee, on Tuesday said the US should investigate whether News Corp papers had broken US laws following reports that victims of the September 11 attacks may have had their phones hacked by detectives working for the News of the World.
“The reported hacking by News Corporation newspapers against a range of individuals – including children – is offensive and a serious breach of journalistic ethics,” said Mr Rockefeller, a West Virginia senator.
“This raises serious questions about whether the company has broken [any] US law, and I encourage the appropriate agencies to investigate to ensure that Americans have not had their privacy violated.”
On Monday, papers in the UK reported that a former New York detective was approached by News of the World reporters and asked to help obtain access to voicemail and call records of victims of the 2001 terror attacks.
“I am concerned that the admitted phone hacking in London by the News Corp may have extended to 9/11 victims or other Americans,” Mr Rockefeller said. “If they did, the consequences will be severe.”
Mr Rockefeller’s remarks raise the spectre of litigation against News Corp in the US, where the company is based.
On Tuesday, Julius Genachowski, the chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission, played down the threat of his agency’s involvement in the issue.
“There is obviously a process going on in the UK, and that is not a process we expect to get involved in or interfere with,” said Mr Genachowski.
However, the FCC head said his agency would “do its job” if new developments prompted it to become involved.
News Corp relies on the US market for the bulk of its revenues, through the Twentieth Century Fox movie studio, Fox News Channel and the Fox broadcast network.
Mr Rockefeller’s remarks came after a dramatic day in which News Corp expanded a share repurchase programme to $5bn, the UK political establishment rose up against Mr Murdoch, and Mr Murdoch, his son James, and former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks were asked to appear before a UK parliamentary committee next week.