Lautenberg wants FCC to probe News Corp.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) pressed Federal Communications Commission members to investigate alleged misconduct by News Corporation at an FCC oversight hearing on Wednesday.

Lautenberg wants the commission to investigate whether the illicit activities News Corporation executives are accused of in the United Kingdom, including hacking into subjects’ voicemails, bribing officials for information and obstructing justice, might extend to the United States.

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“There is evidence that News Corporation executives have been involved in misconduct at the highest levels,” he said, referring to the U.K. probe.

The Communications Act of 1934 requires that holders of broadcast licenses be of good character.

“Despite this long list [of allegations], the FCC did not announce plans for any proactive investigation,” Lautenberg said. “What does it take?”

Watchdog groups have called for the FCC to revoke the 27 licenses News Corporation holds for its Fox broadcast stations in light of the U.K. scandal.

Last week FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee that he takes the allegations against News Corporation and the calls to revoke the licenses "very seriously," and said the commission is "certainly aware of the serious issues that have been raised in the U.K."

Genachowski told Lautenberg that, since matters involving News Corporation may come before the commission, “it would be inappropriate to prejudge them.”

“We don't comment on the status of investigations,” he said. “Obviously we have important responsibilities that we take seriously.”

Republican commissioner Robert McDowell told The Hill he wasn't aware of any active investigation into News Corporation at the FCC. Genachowski wasn't available for comment and a spokesperson for him didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lautenberg pressed further, noting that an investigation by the British parliament had found News Corporation owner Rupert Murdoch unfit to lead a major corporation, and asked "Doesn't that suggest we ought to look at them?"

Earlier this month, Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) sent a letter to Nick Leveson, the British Member of Parliament in charge of the investigation into News Corporation, asking whether his inquiry had uncovered evidence that the malfeasance by company employees had extended to the United States.

Rockefeller told The Hill on Wednesday that he has yet to hear back from Leveson.

New FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, noted that the Communications Act of 1934 "speaks in terms of character requirements," and said she thought the FCC should "monitor the situation."

Her Republican counterpart who was also sworn in on Monday, commissioner Ajit Pai, concurred.

"I will study the record very carefully and support appropriate action," he said.

Lautenberg agreed, telling the commissioners "I think some action is absolutely required."

"Charges are flying in all over," he said. "While there isn't enough evidence to make a decision, certainly we should be looking at this."

Updated at 5:36 p.m.

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