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News Limited distances itself from phone scandal

SYDNEY (AP) — Rupert Murdoch's Australian media company insisted Wednesday it has no connection with the phone hacking controversy in Britain and said it is willing to answer any questions about its local operations.

News Limited chief executive John Hartigan's statement followed remarks from Australia's prime minister earlier Wednesday that the Australian company has some "hard questions" to answer.

"The prime minister's comments seek to draw a link between News Corporation operations in the UK and those here in Australia," Hartigan said. "The comments were unjustified and regrettable."

Murdoch's News Limited owns at least 20 newspapers, several news websites and cable television service in Australia, where he began his media career in 1952 after inheriting "The News" newspaper after the death of his father.

His media empire in Britain has suffered a crippling blow following allegations that his newspapers used fraudulent means to obtain information, including paying bodyguards of Queen Elizabeth II for sensitive phone numbers and travel plans, and hacking phones of crime victims.

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The scandal has been closely followed in Australia, dominating the front pages of newspapers and prime time on television.

Australian media have been seeking reactions to the controversy every day from commentators and politicians. On Wednesday, questions were posed to Prime Minister Julia Gillard who appeared to make off-the-cuff, unprepared remarks.

Gillard said Australians were disturbed by the events in Britain.

"When people have seen telephones hacked into, when people have seen individuals grieving have to deal with all of this, then I do think that causes them to ask some questions here in our country, some questions about News Limited here," she told reporters.

"Obviously News Limited has got a responsibility to answer those questions when they're asked," she said without elaborating on what those questions were.

Hartigan said News Limited would be happy to respond.

"There is no evidence that similar behavior has occurred at News in Australia," he said. "We have answered every question put to us on this issue openly. If the prime minister has more questions we would be happy to respond."

Hartigan has already said that News Limited will conduct a "thorough review" of all editorial expenditures over the past three years to confirm that payments were made for legitimate services.

Murdoch gave up his Australian passport and took up U.S. citizenship in 1985 to meet legal requirements for owning U.S. television stations. His U.S.-based News Corp., the global media conglomerate, owns the Australian News Limited.

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