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Panel head questions need for 2nd inquiry

May 2, 2012 at 8:58 AM   |   Comments

LONDON, May 2 (UPI) -- The leader of an independent panel investigating the British phone-hacking scandal said the second part of the panel's inquiry may not be necessary.

The inquiry, led by Lord Justice Brian Leveson, was divided into two parts when it was established to avoid conflicting with police investigations into phone hacking, computer hacking and corruption payments to public officials that grew out of the defunct News of the World's tapping into phones of public and private citizens.

The first part of the Leveson panel's inquiry, which has been under way since November, is examining the "culture, practice and ethics of the press," and will set out recommendations for a new regulatory system in a report to Parliament later this year. The second part, tasked with specifically looking into phone hacking, is expected to begin its investigation at some future date, but the Inquiry chairman hinted it may not happen and invited participants to consider "the value to be gained" from it, The Daily Telegraph reported Wednesday.

In a written statement on the way the inquiry rules should be applied, Leveson said, "If there are [prosecutions for phone-hacking] it is likely that the process of pre-trial disclosure and trial will be lengthy so that Part 2 of this Inquiry will be delayed for very many months if not longer."

Leveson said the second part of the inquiry would involve "more enormous" costs and would review material that would be even more out of date and "likely to take longer than the present inquiry … ."

More than 50 people have been arrested so far by Metropolitan Police officers investigating hacking and alleged bribery, although no formal charges have been filed. News of the World was part of News Corp., the international company owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

In the United States, an ethics watchdog called on Washington to revoke News Corp.'s 27 Fox TV licenses after British lawmakers said Murdoch was unfit to lead the media giant.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said a report by the House of Commons' Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee -- which found the News Corp. chairman and chief executive officer "not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company" -- made him an improper character to hold Fox Broadcasting Co.'s 27 lucrative licenses in 15 states and the District of Columbia.

The British report also said Murdoch son, James Murdoch, News Corp.'s deputy chief operating officer and until recently head of the family's media interests in Britain, for failing to act on the wrongdoing much earlier.

"The whole affair demonstrates huge failings of corporate governance at the [British] company and its parent, News Corp.," said the report, which can be seen at http://tinyurl.com/bvx6yun.

CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said: "The House of Commons report makes clear that both Rupert and James Murdoch were complicit in New Corp.'s illegal activities. If the Murdochs don't meet the British standards of character test, it is hard to see how they can meet the American standard."

The activist group sent a letter to U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski Tuesday asking that News Corp.'s TV licenses be revoked, citing U.S. law that states broadcast frequencies may be used only by people of good "character" who serve "the public interest" and speak with "candor."

The organization also sent letters to the House and Senate Commerce Committees asking for hearings into whether the Murdochs meet the FCC's character standards.

The FCC declined to comment on the Parliament report or whether it would spark its own investigation into News Corp.'s fitness to hold U.S. broadcast licenses.

Neither House Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., nor Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., offered immediate comments about the CREW letter.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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