Congress to quiz Murdoch

NEWT Gingrich and Rupert Murdoch have been summoned to appear before an ethics committee of the US Congress to answer accusations that they engaged in improper business dealings.

A panel of five Democrats and five Republicans from the House of Representatives will be concentrating their inquiries on a $4.5m book deal that Mr Gingrich, the Republican Speaker of the House, made last December with a publishing company owned by Mr Murdoch.

The committee, which is expected to convene within a month, will contend that it was improper for Mr Gingrich to do business with Mr Murdoch because he had a keen financial interest in legislation affecting his biggest US-based company, Fox Broadcasting.

Democrats who have been pursuing the case have cast particular suspicion on a meeting that Mr Gingrich and Mr Murdoch held in the Capitol on 28 November last year, less than a month before Mr Gingrich secured his extravagant advance from HarperCollins.

Mr Gingrich later admitted that they discussed a legal challenge by NBC to Mr Murdoch's ownership of Fox on the ground that News Corporation, which controls Mr Murdoch's international interests, is based in Australia.

Mr Murdoch has said that he will attend the ethics hearings but he had little choice in the matter because refusal would have landed him with a congressional subpoena.

A political row prompted by the HarperCollins book deal in January prompted Mr Gingrich to relinquish his advance, opting instead for an extraordinarily lucrative 15 per cent royalty on sales. To Renew America, which appeared on bookstands last week priced at $24, is the Speaker's political-cum- philosophical vision of where the future of his country lies.

One noteworthy passage extols the impending sexual delights of weightless honeymoons in space.

A Washington Post article last Thursday described the book as "dopey", "intellectually lazy" and "astoundingly stupid".

"Never in the course of human events," the Post said, "has so much been offered for so little."

Next month Mr Gingrich is due to set off on a 25-city book-promotion/political- promotion tour, sponsored by HarperCollins.