Rupert Murdoch faces revolt from angry Sun staff
Published 13/02/2012 | 08:19
RUPERT Murdoch is facing revolt from his own staff after journalists angry at the arrest of five senior colleagues accused the company of throwing them to the wolves.
The 80-year-old media mogul is due to fly into Britain this week to address workers at his Wapping plant and reassure them of his commitment to his remaining UK newspaper titles.
But he is likely to receive an angry reception after five more journalists on The Sun were arrested as part of Operation Elveden – the police investigation into allegations of bribery.
The arrests early on Saturday morning were the second batch in a fortnight and sources close to the investigation have indicated that they are unlikely to be the last.
Journalists at The Sun yesterday accused the company’s Management Standards Committee (MSC), which handed a huge amount of information to detectives, of allowing a “witch-hunt” to take place.
One angry journalist said the MSC were behaving like “reptiles” in order to protect the reputation of Mr Murdoch’s parent company in the United States.
Ten senior journalists on the paper have now been arrested and bailed as detectives probe allegations that they illegally paid police officers and other public officials for information.
But staff at the paper said many of the allegations were “pathetic” and related to matters many years ago where reporters had bought drinks for contacts in the pursuit of legitimate stories.
Writing in today’s Sun, the newspaper’s influential former political editor, Trevor Kavanagh, questioned the proportion of police resources being used in the inquiry and warned that the heavy handed police tactics left it looking like a “witch hunt”.
Staff also described a highly charged atmosphere when the paper’s current editor Dominic Mohan spoke to his newsroom yesterday afternoon.
One source at Wapping said: “There is a real feeling of anger, deepening anger but also defiance about what is going on. But there is not the mood for a strike, as people are loyal to the paper but perhaps not the people who run it."
“It is looking like a witch hunt now. Some of the allegations being made against people are pathetic – reporters taking contacts out for drinks, meals and the like. The police don't really seem to understand how journalism works.
"Huge teams of counter-terrorism detectives are turning up at people's homes, going through their children's underwear drawers about things which happened seven or eight years ago. This is behaviour reminiscent of Mugabe.”
While Mr Murdoch’s attention will this week be focused on The Sun, pressure over the scandal continues to mount in the United States, where shareholders are angry at the damage the scandal is doing to the wider brand.
It has also now emerged that the Sun’s parent company News Corp could face an investigation by officials under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
The law allows American companies to be fined hundreds of millions of dollars for illegal activities overseas.
The phone hacking scandal at the News of the World has already cost the company more than £125 million and many investors want to see News Corp extricate itself from such a damaging association.
Mr Murdoch is now likely to face renewed pressure to overhaul how the company is run with experts suggesting he may now be forced to split his roles of chairman and chief executive.
“From a (News Corp) shareholders point of view, you want this to end and for people to move on," said Charles Elson, director of the Weinberg Centre for Corporate Governance at Delaware University.
"The key is to make sure it doesn't happen again," he added.
A memo to News International staff from the company’s chief executive Tom Mockridge assured staff of Mr Murdoch’s continuing determination to own and publish The Sun, which is said to be the newspaper closest to his heart.
But Tom Watson, the Labour MP and a member of the Culture and Media Select Committee, said the latest development would prove extremely difficult for News Corp to deflect.
He said: “This moves things on considerably because this is no longer just about hacking phones and it is no longer just about one newspaper.
“This goes to the very heart of corporate governance. This is now about three newspapers; the News of the World, the Times and the Sun and it involves allegations of phone hacking, email hacking and illegal payments for information.
“Inevitably it takes it to the top of the company because that is where the culture is set. That is why New York is worried because they know you cannot just blame it on individual rogue reporters.
“If what we are told is true, if illegal payments have been made to police and other public officials this is hugely damaging. I am certain there will be more arrests at The Sun.”
He added: “I think he has lost a lot of the trust of the front line staff because what you have got is a lot of very experienced and senior news reporters who now feel that they are being used as pawns in a political game to save the business.”
Mr Watson added that it had to be Mr Murdoch who bore the ultimate responsibility for what happened in his newsrooms.
Speaking on The Sunday Politics on BBC ONE he said: “It’s Rupert Murdoch who appoints bullies like Kelvin MacKenzie or small children like Dominic Mohan to run these very big institutions of national newspapers of repute. He’s responsible for the personnel that allow these things to happen and he must take responsibility for it.”