- By Robert ZeligerRobert Zeliger is News Editor of Foreign Policy.
There’s no relief in sight for the embattled 80-year-old media tycoon. Today, British analysts grappled with a question many have called unprecedented — what power, if any, does the Parliament have to compel Rupert Murdoch to testify? Murdoch, an American citizen, declined an invitation to attend a parliamentary hearing next Tuesday (though he said he will participate in a separate inquiry set up by Prime Minister David Cameron).
The chair of the committee said if Murdoch doesn’t show on Tuesday, he would be in contempt of Parliament — though there was confusion about what that actually means since its rarely ever been implemented. The BBC said it was “unchartered waters,”given that Murdoch is a non-Brit.
“If they have any shred of sense of responsibility or accountability for their position of power, then they should come and explain themselves before a select committee,” the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said today (referring to Murdoch and his son James, who has also declined to testify Tuesday).
The Murdochs are most likely trying to buy some time, hoping the media frenzy dies down a little before they are forced to talk publicly — in what is likely to be a very hostile setting. (James said he’d be willing to testify in August).
In the meantime, things aren’t going any better for Murdoch in his home country — the United States — nor in Australia, his place of birth. The scandal has truly taken on a global dimension.
United States: Today, there were more calls for a congressional investigation. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA), a powerful member of the House oversight committee, accused Murdoch’s company of potentially engaging in “political espionage or personal espionage.”
He joined Republican Peter King, who yesterday called on the FBI to look into whether journalists tried to tap into the phones of 9/11 victims. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said earlier in the week he suspected a U.S. probe would “find some criminal stuff.”
A U.S. criminal investigation — though unlikely — would be disastrous for Murdoch, who’s empire is based in the United States. It would put the company — and its many holdings, including the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and the New York Post,under a microscope like never before. Even beyond illegal activity, embarrassing or less-than-exemplary practices could be exposed.
Eliot Spitzer, for one, believes more shady dealings will emerge — and will likely include Murdoch properties based in the United States. “Given the frequency with which he shuttled his senior executives and editors across the various oceans-Pacific as well as Atlantic-it is unlikely that the shoddy ethics were limited to Great Britain,” the former prosecutor, governor, CNN anchor, and expert on shoddy ethics wrote in Slate.
Australia: Speaking of the Pacific, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard today said she was open to initiating a probe of Murdoch’s Australia holdings — which comprise nearly 70 percent of the country’s print media and a good chunk of its TV market.
Gillard said she was “disgusted” by the extent of the scandal in Britain.
The head of News Limited, Murdoch’s Australian media arm, John Hartigan, said there would be an internal review of the company’s practices, but said it was “offensive and wrong [to] connect the behavior in the UK with News Limited’s conduct in Australia.”
So, where does that leave Murdoch? Maybe China, where he’s been expanding his footprint lately, is looking like a good refuge. His wife, Wendi, just produced a movie that is a hit there.
In fact, she told the Los Angeles Times — apparently without any sense of irony — that she had little trouble raising money for the movie: “Everybody in China wanted to give us money,” she told the paper. “In China, everybody knows who I am. It definitely helped. They have confidence in me.”