The Sydney Moring Herald reports that federal police in Australia are investigating claims by a former legislator that in the late 1990's a senior executive with a Murdoch-owned newspaper offered to “take care” of the politician and create friendly, “special relationship” with him if he voted against a pending piece of legislation that would impact Murdoch's business interests.
According to the Herald, which has seen the nine-page statement given to investigators by former senator Bill O'Chee, when a bill proposing the creation of digital television in Australia was nearing a vote, an unnamed News executive and lobbyist invited O'Chee to lunch to try to get him to vote against the bill. (The Herald notes that while serving in parliament, O'Chee “had a long and difficult relationship with the Murdoch press.”)
Referencing O'Chee's account, the Herald reports [emphasis added]:
During the meeting, Mr O'Chee said, the News executive argued that the digital conversion bill needed to be defeated because it would bankrupt regional free broadcasters which could not afford to convert to digital.
''I felt that these arguments were made up because News Corporation had no financial interest in non-pay television broadcasting,'' Mr O'Chee's statement says.
''[I] believed that News Corporation's real interest was the effect the digital conversion legislation would cause to its Foxtel business venture, because it would reduce the amount of people who would want to subscribe for these services.'' The executive then said that while it would be controversial for Mr O'Chee to cross the floor, ''we will take care of you''.
If Mr O'Chee was criticized for his decision, News would use its Australian newspapers to look after him, including running his media releases and opinion pieces. ''[He] also told me we would have a 'special relationship', where I would have editorial support from News Corporation's newspapers, not only with respect to the digital conversion legislation, but for 'any other issues' too.
''I believed that [he] was clearly implying that News Corporation would run news stories or editorial content concerning any issue I wanted if I was to cross the floor and oppose the digital conversion legislation.''
In the end, O'Chee voted in favor of the bill and soon found it “impossible” to get anything published in newspapers controlled by Murdoch's News Corp., even though O'Chee claims he “had been able to do so before the lunch meeting.”
The Wall Street Journal reports “News Corp.'s Australian unit Wednesday denied allegations” made by O'Chee.