Eye of the storm

Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch flies into London facing the biggest crisis of his career, as the fallout from the News of the World phone-hacking scandal spreads to his other UK newspapers, amid talk of "civil war" between parts of his empire.

A lifelong newspaperman, he has already faced the personal and corporate disaster of closing Britain's biggest-selling paper, after a revolt by readers and advertisers over its hacking of Milly Dowler's phone messages.

Now he faces open revolt from journalists on the Sun, the paper which laid the foundations of his media empire with its "soaraway" success in the 1970s. Nine of the paper's most senior staff have been arrested in recent weeks on the basis of information supplied by their parent company in the United States, where sources have been quoted saying they are "draining the swamp".

Staff at the Sun are furious - and fearful - at the way the Management and Standards Committee (MSC) of the parent group, News Corp, has given the police apparently incriminating evidence about its own journalists and their alleged sources. In his column, the paper's former political editor Trevor Kavanagh - long regarded as a close confidant of Murdoch - expressed concern at the management's actions. He told the BBC there was particular unhappiness that parts of the company were boasting that it was their information that had put journalists into police cells.

The revolt has spread to The Times - into which Murdoch has poured hundreds of millions of pounds over the years to cover its losses. It was The Times which reported that the MSC had disclosed the identity of police officers, a civil servant and an army officer to Scotland Yard because it did not believe they were "legitimate sources", since they had allegedly been paid for information.

The Times followed this up with a column by the human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, headed 'Protecting sources is a legal and moral duty'. He wrote: "Not all payments to public officials for information are regarded, in practice, or in law, as contrary to the 1906 Prevention of Corruption Act, especially now that Article 10 of the Human Rights Act requires the public interest of disclosure to be taken into account," he wrote. He said the Daily Telegraph had not been prosecuted for paying a large sum of money to acquire details of MPs' expenses

Now staff are talking to the National Union of Journalists about preparing a possible legal challenge to their own company's actions, on the grounds that they are ethically and legally obliged to protect their sources, under the editors' code overseen by the PCC.

Amid all this, there are still fears for the paper's long-term future. Staff will seek further assurances this week after News International's chief executive Tom Mockridge told them he'd had a "personal assurance from Rupert Murdoch about his total commitment to continue to own and publish The Sun". Unlike the News of the World, the Sun has not yet lost the support of the public or advertisers.

Meanwhile, as Rupert Murdoch flies to London, one of his main protagonists is flying the other way to the United States. Mark Lewis, the solicitor who represents several of the phone-hacking victims, is meeting lawyers to see whether they can continue their legal battle in the United States. That is exactly what News Corp - by co-operating so fully and openly with the police - has been trying to avoid.

Torin Douglas, Media correspondent Article written by Torin Douglas Torin Douglas Former media correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    News International's titles were always first in line to hold others to account, both morally & legally, & rightly so.

    But if crimes have been committed they need to be investigated and changes bought as appropriate.

    They are no more above the law than those they seek to hold to account and justice must be allowed to take it's course.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    There is something deliciously ironic about tabloid journalists complaining about their dodgy dealings being exposed by journalists and informants.

    These same people that decry any attempts to curtail the freedom of the press, now want the press to stop reporting about them and their shameful practices.

    There is no honour amongst theives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I really don't understand why the NUJ are speaking to any of the staff - they are not members, and they knowingly worked as scab labour after Murdoch sacked all of the union members on his titles when he moved production to fortress Wapping.

    No sympathy whatosoever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The only way I'd have any sympathy for the journalists involved is if it proved they were untaking these illegal activities (assuming they are found guilty) on the orders of management......but even then only so much sympathy (the ICC does not allow "only following orders" as a defence) - and if that was the case you'd think someone would have spoken up by now......

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Has Murdoch's lack of professional morality administered the final, fatal stab to complete the murder of the once-proud British press? The standards to which journalists adhere are those of their proprietors; is there even ONE national newspaper left that can hold it's head up high? Perhaps only 'Private Eye', which thrives on the Evil of the Day?


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