Australian police probe News Corp. allegations

AP News
Posted: Nov 23, 2011 12:29 AM
Australian police probe News Corp. allegations

Australian police said Wednesday they are investigating a former senator's allegations that a News Corp. executive offered him favorable newspaper coverage and "a special relationship" in return for voting against government legislation.

Former Sen. Bill O'Chee recently made the allegations in a nine-page statement to police and they were published Wednesday by Fairfax Media newspapers, rivals of News Corp. in Australia.

The newspapers reported that an unnamed executive of News Corp.'s Australian subsidiary, News Ltd., asked O'Chee during a lunch on June 13, 1998, to vote against his conservative government's legislation on the creation of digital TV in Australia. News Corp. stood to profit from the legislation failing.

Australian Federal Police said in a statement Wednesday that O'Chee's allegations had been under investigation since Nov. 4.

"As this matter is ongoing, it would not be appropriate to comment any further," the statement said.

Offering a senator a bribe or inducement to influence a vote is an offense punishable by up to six months in prison.

O'Chee did not return an Associated Press phone call Wednesday. A News Ltd. spokesman also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The allegations are embarrassing for News Corp., whose ownership of 70 percent of Australia's newspapers has raised criticisms from within the government that Rupert Murdoch's empire has too much control over Australian media.

The government has opened an inquiry into potentially increasing newspaper regulation in Australia after News Corp. closed its top-selling British tabloid News of the World in July over illegal phone hacking allegations.

O'Chee had been discussing that inquiry with an unnamed Australian lawmaker at an Australian airport recently when he mentioned his allegations against the executive, Fairfax media reported. The allegations were then referred to police.

O'Chee, a former senator for Queensland state with a track record of voting against his National Party's wishes, alleged that the executive told him that while voting against the legislation would be criticized, "we will take care of you."

The executive "also told me we would have a 'special relationship,' where I would have editorial support from News Corp.'s newspapers, not only with respect to the ... legislation, but for 'any other issues' too," O'Chee reportedly told police in his statement.

"I believed that (he) was clearly implying that News Corp. would run news stories or editorial content concerning any issue I wanted if I was to cross the floor and oppose the ... legislation," he added.

O'Chee said that a week after the lunch, he called the executive to say he had decided to vote for the legislation.

"After this conversation, it became almost impossible for me to get anything published in the Queensland newspapers which News Corp. controlled, even though I had been able to do so before the lunch meeting," O'Chee reportedly said in his statement.

He lost his Senate seat at elections four months after the lunch.