Australia calls for Murdoch probe after TV piracy allegations

ITV Digital monkey - did the monkey get hacked?The hacking scandal just continues to spread. Following Monday night’s Panorama programme (‘Murdoch’s TV Pirates’), which centred on allegations that News Corporation-owned company NDS cracked the smart card codes of pay-TV rival ONdigital in an effort to undermine its business, there are now calls for a probe in Australia.

The BBC programme has also sparked an Ofcom investigation in the UK into the NDS claims, which look likely being echoed in Australia.

NDS is said to have led a pirate attack on  ONdigital/ITV Digital, owned by the then ITV companies Granada and Carlton, which eventually went under as a result of counterfeiting by pirates and onerous sports rights deals, leaving the pay-TV field clear for BSkyB.

In Australia the newspaper, The Australian Financial Review, which is owned by one of Murdoch’s rivals, Fairfax Media, has published more than 14,000 internal emails from NDS along with the results of what it said was a four-year-long investigation into whether it encouraged the mass pirating of rival satellite television network.

“These are serious allegations, and any allegations of criminal activity should be referred to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for investigation,” Suzie Brady, a spokeswoman for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, said in an e-mail exchange with the New York Times.

A spokeswoman for the police told the paper that that she could not immediately confirm whether a criminal investigation had been opened over the allegations in the report, which centres largely on the battle for dominance over Australia’s burgeoning pay TV market in the late 1990s that mirrors the battle that took place in the UK.

“The new e-mails, which the newspaper said had come from the hard drive of Ray Adams, a former commander in the Metropolitan Police in London who served as head of operational security for NDS Group in Europe from 1996 to 2002, appear to show that a secret unit within the company called “Operational Security” promoted a wave of high-tech piracy that damaged the News Corporation rivals Austar and Optus at a time when the company was positioning itself to be the dominant player in the Australian pay TV industry.

“The e-mails also support the claims made in the BBC program, the report says.

“The report says that the e-mails provide evidence that the unit, which is headed by Reuven Hasak, a former deputy director of Israel’s domestic secret service, Shin Bet, encouraged and facilitated piracy by hackers of companies for whom NDS provided pay TV smart cards, which allow subscribers to descramble encoded satellite transmissions,” the New York Times reported.

The BBC Panorama programme, which News Corp lawyers had tried to stop, claimed that NDS had paid a hacker consultant to “crack” ON digital’s code and publish it on a pirate site where it was then widely distributed effectively helping to kill what became (after changing its name form ONdigital) ITV Digital.

Ofcom is now looking into the claims.  The UK regulator said yesterday that it would consider “all relevant evidence”, according to the Independent.

The allegations come at a critical time for NDS, which is currently in the process of being sold to Cisco Systems for $5bn.

NDS has strongly denied the Panorama claims and has described them as “simply not true”.

“It is wrong to claim NDS has ever been in possession of any codes for the purpose of promoting hacking or piracy,” it said in a statement.