SYDNEY, Sept 13 – Canberra on Tuesday said it would hold an inquiry into the media following the British hacking scandal that sank Australian-born Rupert Murdoch’s best-selling tabloid News of the World.,
A spokesman for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the scope of the inquiry was yet to finalised but the ruling Labor party had decided that a probe was required.
“What’s been agreed is that we’re going to have an inquiry into media and media ownership,” the spokesman told AFP.
“The terms of reference are still being negotiated. We’re going to make an announcement when we’re done, but it’s imminent.”
Labor faced intense calls for an official review of Australia’s media after the phone hacking scandal, which saw News Corp chairman Murdoch drop his bid for satellite broadcaster BSkyB and face a grilling by British MPs.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard warned Murdoch’s Australian arm News Limited, a dominant player in the press baron’s home nation, that it faced some “hard questions” following the British firestorm.
Murdoch controls about two-thirds of Australia’s regional and metropolitan newspapers, has a stake in broadcasters Sky News and Fox Sports, and is angling to run the Australia Network, the international public TV channel.
Fairfax Media is the other key player in Australia’s print media.
The left-leaning Greens party, a key partner in Gillard’s minority coalition government, has led calls for a media probe, but the government is understood to object to their terms of reference as too focused on ownership.
Both Labor and the Greens have complained about coverage by the Murdoch press, with Conroy previously accusing News Limited of running a “regime change” campaign against the government intent on forcing an early election.
Conroy’s spokesman said the inquiry would likely include a “broad reference” to media ownership, but “it wouldn’t be a criticism of one media organisation,” instead examining measures like strengthening Australia’s newspaper regulator.
The conservative opposition immediately rejected the move as a “naked attempt to intimidate the media”.
“There is no evidence of any significant new problems with the media in Australia,” opposition leader Tony Abbott told reporters.
Abbott said it was Labor’s “performance which is causing the problems for this government,” not media coverage.
News Limited’s chairman John Hartigan has strongly distanced the company from events in Britain, but launched a review of all payments made in the past three years to ensure they were legitimate.
Hartigan has vowed to cooperate with any inquiry.
Canberra has already moved to introduce a legal right to privacy following the British developments, paving the way for people to sue media organisations for serious breaches. But it has ruled out any regulation of the media.
Murdoch already faces a probe in Britain, where Lord Justice Brian Leveson is chairing a judicial inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal which will examine issues including media ethics and press regulation.
The crisis saw two of Murdoch’s most trusted executives resign and dragged in Prime Minister David Cameron, whose former media chief, Andy Coulson, was arrested over the scandal in July.
US authorities are also investigating claims that News Corp hacked the phones of victims of the September 11, 2001 extremist attacks.