WASHINGTON (AP) — News Corp., the media giant controlled by Rupert Murdoch, spent $1.39 million in the third quarter to lobby the federal government on such issues as auctioning the rights to airwaves now used by TV stations, according to a disclosure report.
That’s up from the $960,000 that the company spent a year earlier and less than the $1.68 million it spent in the second quarter of 2011. The company also lobbied the federal government on overhauling rules that govern fee disputes between TV station owners like itself and pay TV distributors such as Comcast Corp., according to the report.
News Corp. owns the Fox broadcast network, Fox and MyNetwork TV stations, The Wall Street Journal and the 20th Century Fox movie studio, along with other newspapers in the U.S., Australia, Britain and elsewhere.
In the July-to-September period, the company lobbied both houses of Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, the Homeland Security Department and other agencies, according to the report, which was filed Oct. 20 with the House clerk’s office.
The FCC has said it hopes to persuade TV stations to give up roughly 120 megahertz of spectrum in exchange for a cut of auction proceeds. This proposal would require federal legislation.
News Corp. owns 27 TV stations and could benefit from the sale of spectrum to cellphone companies and others that want to build or expand wireless services.
But the sale would be in single-channel-sized chunks, meaning TV stations that want to stay in business are not likely to participate unless they reach a private deal to share spectrum space with another station.
Some TV station owners are also concerned that TV broadcasting would be re-allocated to spectrum that is less desirable, harder to find and prone to signal interference.
News Corp. and the owners of the other big networks — ABC, NBC and CBS — have said they would support the auction as long as TV stations’ participation is voluntary. Among other things, they do not want to be forced to move between the UHF and VHF bands, which have different technical properties. They also want the federal government to cover the costs of switching to a different part of the airwaves.
Meanwhile, broadcast networks and station owners are increasingly involved in disputes with pay TV distributors over the fees paid to carry signals on cable and satellite TV lineups. The distributors are seeking rules to make it easier to resolve disputes, which in the past have led to blackouts of channels for days or weeks at a time. News Corp. and other broadcasters are increasingly relying on those fees as a new source of revenue that can grow steadily and balance out the ups and downs of the advertising market.
News Corp.’s British newspaper unit is also under fire for phone hacking. It shut down its British tabloid News of the World this summer after a phone-hacking scandal brought it under intense scrutiny by U.K. press regulators and police. The company’s employees are also accused of bribing British police for story tips.
In July, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed that the FBI was conducting a preliminary investigation of News Corp.’s U.S. operations to see whether any hacking or bribery occurred on U.S. soil.
Even if the company’s employees are only found to have bribed U.K. officials, that could have repercussions in the U.S. under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The company, which is based in New York, could be forced into a wider-ranging global review of its operations and face stiff fines that could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The company did not specifically list the phone hacking issue as one that it lobbied on, but it did list the Justice Department as one of the agencies it lobbied in the quarter.
None of the company’s registered lobbyists had former government positions that are required to be listed.
However, Joel Klein, a News Corp. board member and executive vice president in charge of the company’s internal probe into the hacking scandal, is a former U.S. assistant attorney general. He joined the company in July.