Will News Corp face investigation in the US?

A Senator has called for practices of Murdoch's US journalists to be examined, raising the stakes fo

Jay Rockefeller, a key Democratic senator and chairman of the Senate commerce committee, has called for the authorities to investigate whether journalists at Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation targeted US citizens. In a written statement, he said:

I encourage the appropriate agencies to investigate to ensure that Americans have not had their privacy violated.

The reported hacking by News Corporation newspapers against a range of individuals -- including children -- is offensive and a serious breach of journalistic ethics. This raises serious questions about whether the company has broken US law.

Rockefeller is the first significant figure in Congress to call for an investigation, and his intervention adds weight to the growing ranks of pressure groups demanding one.

Jodi Seth, chairman of the Senate sub-committee on communications, told the Daily Telegraph that an inquiry is currently unlikely:

We're keeping an eye on the situation, but are not planning on looking into it at this time. For now, all that is certain is that there was hacking in Britain, which is outside of our jurisdiction.

But as the pressure builds, this may change. The Daily Mirror has already claimed that News of the World reporters attempted to bribe a New York police officer for access to the phone records of victims of the September 11 attacks. If this is substantiated, it will have far-reaching repercussions in the US. Republican politicians in particular have close ties to Murdoch because of his Fox News network, but it is unlikely that this would take priority over their commitment to terror victims and war veterans.

Despite Seth's statement, the very public nature of the case might eventually make it difficult for regulatory agencies to turn a blind eye, given the emphasis they place on deterrence. Les Hinton, now chief executive of Dow Jones in the US, was formerly head of News International and is directly implicated in the case. Robert Thomson, editor of the Wall Street Journal, formerly edited the Times

If the scandal continues to widen out from the News of the World, the suggestion that corrupt practices infected the whole company could make a US investigation inevitable. The Center for American Progress Action Fund, run by John Podesta, former chief of staff to Bill Clinton, is organising a petition on this basis, saying:

Although initial reports focused on the U.K. paper News of the World, recent reports suggest that this disturbing conduct extended to several other News Corp properties.

"Given the seriousness of these allegations, we ask that you immediately begin an investigation of all entities controlled by News Corp, including domestic subsidiaries such as Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post.

Yet another possibility is that the Security and Exchanges Commission (SEC), a federal regulatory agency, will look into whether News Corp has violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it a crime for any American-linked company to bribe foreign officials to obtain or keep business. This could make action on UK soil -- such as paying police officers or royal staff for information and contact details -- a criminal offence in the US.

Given that the vast majority of Murdoch's empire is made up of his US assets -- Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and 20th Century Fox -- this could be a catastrophic development for the company.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Why Prince Charles and Princess Anne are both wrong on GM foods

The latest tiff between toffs gives plenty of food for thought.

I don’t have siblings, so I was weirdly curious as a kid about friends who did, especially when they argued (which was often). One thing I noticed was the importance of superlatives: of being the best child, the most right, and the first to have been wronged. And it turns out things are no different for the Royals.

You might think selective breeding would be a subject on which Prince Charles and Princess Anne would share common ground, but when it comes to genetically modified crops they have very different opinions.

According to Princess Anne, the UK should ditch its concerns about GM and give the technology the green light. In an interview to be broadcast on Radio 4’s Farming Today, she said would be keen to raise both modified crops and livestock on her own land.

“Most of us would argue we have been genetically modifying food since man started to be agrarian,” she said (rallying the old first-is-best argument to her cause). She also argued that the practice can help reduce the price of our food and improve the lives of animals - and “suspects” that there are not many downsides.

Unfortunately for Princess Anne, her Royal “us” does not include her brother Charles, who thinks that GM is The Worst.

In 2008, he warned that genetically engineered food “will be guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time.”  Supporting such a path would risk handing control of our food-chain to giant corporations, he warned -  leading to “absolute disaster” and “unmentionable awfulness” and “the absolute destruction of everything”.

Normally such a spat could be written off as a toff-tiff. But with Brexit looming, a change to our present ban on growing GM crops commercially looks ever more likely.

In this light, the need to swap rhetoric for reason is urgent. And the most useful anti-GM argument might instead be that offered by the United Nations’ cold, hard data on crop yields.

Analysis by the New York Times shows that, in comparison to Europe, the United States and Canada have “gained no discernible advantages” from their use of GM (in terms of food per acre). Not only this, but herbicide use in the US has increased rather than fallen.

In sum: let's swap superlatives and speculation for sense.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.