News Corp will have to answer questions in Australia -PM

CANBERRA, (Reuters) – The Australian arm of News  Corp will have to answer “hard questions” in Australia  following the growing phone hacking scandal in the United  Kingdom, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said today.
Gillard said Australians had been “disturbed” by events in  Britain, where Australian-born Rupert Murdoch and his son James  defended at a parliamentary hearing yesterday their handing of  events that have shaken the family’s grip on their media empire.
“When there has been a major discussion overseas, when  people have seen telephones hacked into, when people have seen  individuals grieving have to deal with all of this, then I do  think that causes them to ask some questions here in our  country, some questions about News Ltd here,” Gillard told  reporters in New South Wales.
“Obviously News Ltd has got a responsibility to answer those  questions when they’re asked,” she said.
The influential Greens, who control the balance of power in  Australia’s upper house Senate, have called for a parliamentary  inquiry into media laws in the wake of events in Britain, with  Gillard agreeing to discuss a review.
Gillard said Australians generally had “hard questions” that  they wanted answered by News executives, but cautioned she was  not jumping to any conclusions about the company’s conduct and  news gathering practices at home.
Senior Australian ministers have for months accused News Ltd  of biased treatment targeting the minority Labor government,  with Communications Minister Stephen Conroy this week accusing  the company of campaigning for “regime change”.
News Ltd, the Australian arm of News Corp, controls 70  percent of Australia’s newspaper readership market. Lawmakers  will decide whether to support a review when parliament resumes  in August, after the current winter break.
News Ltd chief John Hartigan denied last week that there was  any widespread campaign against Labor, defending the company’s  newspaper coverage as aggressive but fair.
Responding to Gillard’s comments on Wednesday, he said:  “There is absolutely no connection between events in the UK and  our business in Australia.”
“There is no evidence that similar behaviour has occurred at  News in Australia,” he said in a statement, adding that News Ltd  had answered all questions on the issue openly.
“If the Prime Minister has more questions we would be happy  to respond.”
News Corp’s woes have been front page fodder in Australia  and coincide with a decision by Gillard’s government to re-open  a bitterly fought tender involving Murdoch’s part-owned Sky News  for the country’s taxpayer-funded overseas TV service.
An independent panel set up to decide the A$223 million  Australia Network tender unanimously backed Sky over the  incumbent ABC, but was reportedly overruled by the government  which decided to impose a new “national interest” hurdle.
The scandal has also knocked shares in a News Corp takeover  target, Australian pay-tv company Austar , which has  agreed a $2 billion-plus takeover offer from its bigger rival  Foxtel, which is owned by News Corp’s News Ltd division,  billionaire James Packer’s Consolidated Media Holdings,  and telecom company Telstra.

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