As Britain continues to be embroiled by allegations of hacking and bribery at Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.,, Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., says members of Congress should help ensure that American broadcasters serve the public interest.
"Media ownership in America is a privilege, not a right, and it's based upon trust and responsibility," he told communications staff on Tuesday. "First Amendment freedom of the press is critical to our democracy and must never be compromised by corrupt and illegal practices."
News Corporation, which owns Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, and dozens of TV stations in America, is under fire after reporters at one of its London newspapers were accused of hacking the telephone voice mail accounts of thousands of people. The paper, The News of the World, has since been shut down but Murdoch and other top executives continue to face heat from lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Rush, who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee, said he is confident that the Federal Bureau of Investigation will determine whether any similarly illegal activity happened in the United States. "I am especially interested in knowing whether there was telephone and voicemail hacking in the U.S.," he said. "Were bribes paid to cover up hacking here?"
Although the FBI and other legal authorities will ultimately handle any questions of illegal activity, Rush said members of Congress need to ensure that broadcasters are acting in the best interest of the public.
"The public airwaves belong to the American people... And we are elected to make sure that those who are licensed to serve the public interest really do so and reflect who we are as a nation," he said.
Despite calls for regulators to break up News Corporation's vast international media holdings, Rush said consolidation doesn't automatically lead to corruption. The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates News Corporation's broadcast TV stations, has declined to wade into the controversy and analysts say it's unlikely that the media giant will lose its broadcast licenses.