NEW YORK — Tsunami relief was top on the mind of showbiz Monday as Rupert Murdoch dispatched a letter to all News Corp. staffers saying his company would give $1 million in aid and match employee’s donations, while NBC Universal announced it will carry a Jan. 15 primetime telethon special on all of its networks.

News Ltd., which is News Corp.’s Aussie operations, will give another $1 million to CARE Australia.

Murdoch’s note came just hours after President Bush put the country’s two previous presidents — the elder George Bush and Bill Clinton — in charge of a massive effort to raise private U.S. aid money for those Indian Ocean countries devastated by a series of tidal waves.

“The tragedy that unfolded last week is of unimaginable breadth: more than 150,000 dead; thousands missing; 5 million homeless; millions more vulnerable to diseases. While the world has already responded with great compassion, we can do more — and we should do more,” wrote Murdoch, saying he was answering Bush’s call for U.S. companies and individuals to do their part.

Murdoch said the company would match employee’s donations to any charity listed on the website USAfreedomcorps.gov.

Clinton is almost certain to call upon his Hollywood connections in the coming days, although the entertainment biz has already begun galvanizing, both here and overseas.

Actress Sandra Bullock on Monday wrote a $1 million check to the American Red Cross, while musicians and performers around the world have begun staging relief concerts and, in one instance, begun recording a special benefit song. Also, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. has given $250,000 to the tsunami relief effort.

Worldwide, more than $2 billion in relief aid has been pledged, with $350 million coming from the U.S.

Disney, TW first on board

Among the big U.S. entertainment congloms, the Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner were the first to announce their relief plans last week. Disney has set up a fund with the Intl. Red Cross with an initial donation of $1 million. Mouse House employees also can contribute to the fund.

Time Warner is giving $100,000 each to the American Red Cross Intl. Response Fund and to Unicef’s South Asia Tsunami Relief Fund, while it will match employee donations up to $1,000 per individual, with a cap of $500,000. AOL has donated an additional $200,000 to Red Cross. In addition, Turner Entertainment Networks in Asia is donating $100,000 to the Red Cross.

Viacom is scheduled to announce its relief plans today.

NBC Universal parent company General Electric has donated $1 million in cash to the Red Cross and $100,000 to Unicef, as well as offering an employee matching program.

Murdoch said News Corp. would give $500,000 each to the relief org Oxfam America and the Salvation Army, as well as matching all donations by company employees.

And like all the other media congloms, News Corp. is calling on its TV stations and cable nets to devote as much airtime as possible to public service announcements asking Americans to donate to the relief effort.

Cross-network telethon

NBC U didn’t say which celebrities and performers will appear on the hourlong Jan. 15 benefit, to be carried live on the East Coast and tape delayed on the West. Special will air on NBC proper, USA, Bravo, Trio, Sci Fi, MSNBC and CNBC, with phone lines remaining open throughout the evening.

Dave Broome of 25/7 Prods. and Tony Eaton and Larry Kline of Tall Pony Prods. are exec producing the show. Radio giant Clear Channel has signed on as NBC U’s partner and will promote the benefit special on its radio stations across the country.

In Ireland, RTE and BBC execs are trying to organize two Live Aid-style concerts to raise cash for the tsunami victims. They reportedly want U2 to headline.

Over the weekend, British singers Boy George and Cliff Richard worked on a song entitled “Grief Never Grows Old” that was written by radio personality Mike Read. Once the song is recorded, all proceeds will go to the Disasters Emergency Committee.

German generosity

Teutonic pubcasters and commercial rivals RTL and ProSiebenSat 1 have already raised millions of euros and are planning further primetime live events to raise more money for regions devastated by the immense tidal waves following the Dec. 26 undersea earthquake off Indonesia.

Private donations from Germany have so far reached about $67 million in what has become one of the biggest fund-raising efforts in recent history. The German government has pledged $27 million, with the European Union’s overall contribution at more than $430 million. Among the dead, the number of German tourists who perished has officially reached 60 with well over 1,000 still missing.

In Hong Kong over the weekend, pop stars Andy Lau and Nicholas Tse helped raise more than $6.2 million during special charity concerts. Another show is planned for Friday.

(Ed Meza in Berlin contributed to this report.)