News Corp: Internal battle? Photo credit: NiallKennedy (Flickr)
Five senior journalists at The Sun have been arrested as part of an investigation into bribery of public officials, plunging Rupert Murdoch’s media empire into fresh turmoil. The inquiry, Operation Elveden, grew out of the phone-hacking scandal that saw The Sun’s News International stablemate The News of The World (NoTW) close. Police are investigating whether journalists illegally bribed officials, including police and prison officers, for information. Four Sun journalists were previously arrested as part of the inquiry.
What’s garnering particular attention is that News Corporation, parent company of News International, has been providing evidence to police relating to the bribery allegations through its Management and Standards Committee (MSC). According to Ben Webster in (News International-owned) The Times (£), the company “has been handing internal e-mails, expenses claims and other documents to the police without regard for the public interest of the stories to which they relate”. Rupert Murdoch is flying in to London as part of a pre-arranged trip and is expected to reassure Sun staff. But resentment appears to be growing within the paper: Webster quoted a senior Sun journalist as saying, “It is all very well for Rupert Murdoch to try to put his arm around us, but he cannot stop what he has set in motion with the MSC.”
Civil war. “The way Operation Elveden has played out shows how News Corp., in an effort to cauterize the wounds sustained from the phone-hacking scandal so far, has waged a battle against itself,” wrote Mike Giglio at The Daily Beast. Giglio set out the scale of the MSC: “A team of lawyers, computer experts, and even police officers working with the MSC reportedly hunker down in soundproof rooms to pore through the documents.” According to Giglio, by instigating an internal investigation on this scale News Corp “may have planted a ticking time bomb in its midst”.
“Once again Rupert Murdoch is trying to pin the blame on individual journalists, hoping that a few scalps will salvage his corporate reputation. Journalists are reeling at seeing five more of their colleagues thrown to the wolves,” National Union of Journalists General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet told The Guardian.
Betrayal? Trevor Kavanagh, associate editor of The Sun, attacked the arrests in an article for the paper that is considered by media commentators to be a swipe at Murdoch. Kavanagh said that it may be “important” for the paper’s parent company, News Corp, to protect its reputation, “but some of the greatest legends in Fleet Street have been held, at least on the basis of evidence so far revealed, for simply doing their jobs as journalists on behalf of the company”. The police tactics were also unnecessarily heavy-handed, insisted Kavanagh: “Instead of being called in for questioning, 30 journalists have been needlessly dragged from their beds in dawn raids, arrested and held in police cells while their homes are ransacked.”
US trouble? According to The Guardian, the problem is not confined to the UK arm of Murdoch’s empire: News Corp “faces the increased prospect of a full-blown inquiry by US authorities as part of the continuing investigation into alleged bribery of public officials under America’s foreign corrupt practices act”. If found guilty, the company would be exposed “to tens of millions of dollars in fines and the risk of imprisonment of its executive officers”.
Worse than phone-hacking? “Operation Elveden could turn out to be far more toxic for the future of the company even than Operation Weeting, which is the inquiry into phone-hacking allegations,” said an Independent editorial, suggesting that “the cancer originally confined to the NOTW spreading across the Atlantic and from one part of Mr Murdoch’s media empire to another”. According to the editorial, the prospect that Murdoch will eventually shut down The Sun can’t be discounted, but it seems unlikely, given the financial health of the paper.
“You should know that I have had a personal assurance today from Rupert Murdoch about his total commitment to continue to own and publish The Sun newspaper,” said News International Chief Executive Tom Mockridge in a memo to Sun staff, published by The Financial Times.
The Sun will survive. The Sun won’t close as long as Rupert Murdoch is alive, argued Roy Greenslade in The Guardian. This is due in part to the paper’s healthy circulation figures, which put The Sun 750,000 copies per day ahead of its closest rival: “Neither buyers nor advertisers are likely to launch the kind of boycott that did for the News of the World,” said Greenslade. However, the paper still has serious problems quite apart from the latest arrests: “There is no doubt the paper has gradually become predictable, lacking the freshness of its one-time irreverence by resting on past laurels,” wrote Greenslade.