News Corp.: Review in Australia Found No Evidence of Phone Hacking

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NEW YORK - Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. said Monday that a three-month review at its major newspapers in Australia has found "no evidence of illegitimate telephone surveillance or payments to public officials."
 
In a number of cases where private investigators were used, staff and companies were asked to provide written assurances that this work was neither illegal, nor illegitimate, the company said. Plus, the review investigated claims by two people, who came forward after the U.K. scandal, saying they suspected staff had hacked their phones, it added.

"In these cases, the staff involved in each of the stories were extensively interviewed and no evidence was found to support the claims," News Corp. said.

The review was commissioned by retiring News Limited chairman and CEO John Hartigan in the aftermath of the U.K. phone hacking scandal that hit the conglomerate this summer.

"The review’s findings provide the strongest possible support for News Limited’s assertion that its editorial staff have not commissioned the kind of illegitimate surveillance or payments that have come to light in the U.K.," the company said.

It said it would, however, make some changes to safeguard standards of conduct. News Corp.'s Australian business will, for example, adopt a single code of conduct across all its editorial operations and "further strengthen the approval process for any use of private investigators," it said. Plus, editorial staff will have to renew their knowledge of the code of conduct every year.

The new code will include specific comments on the use of private investigators. Under the new language, unless there are exceptional circumstances, journalists will carry out their own inquiries and investigations, according to the company. Plus, the use of private investigators "must be confined to work which checks, verifies or establishes facts in support of the fundamental requirement for accuracy in our journalism."

The editor, divisional head and the group editorial director must approve the use of investigators. Plus, investigators must "provide a written assurance that they will not engage in illegitimate surveillance," the company said.

“I said at the start of this process I had no reason to suspect any wrongdoing," said Hartigan. "An incredibly diligent piece of work has confirmed that. Nevertheless we will use this opportunity to put in place measures to further reinforce our standards.”

The Australian review used a team of 26 auditors and collected data on nearly 685,000 transactions over a five-year period, it said. All cash transactions over $100 and all transactions over $10,000 were checked, according to the firm.

More than 28,000 transactions were risk assessed individually and of these 2,321 were  examined in detail, the firm said.

The newspapers reviewed were The Australian and Weekend Australian, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Herald Sun, The Sunday Herald Sun, The Courier-Mail and The Sunday Mail in Queensland, The Advertiser and The Sunday Mail in South Australia and The Sunday Times in Western Australia.

Staff and outside service providers were questioned and interviewed in the process, News Corp. said. Retired judges Frank Vincent and Bernard Teague independently assessed the review’s methodology and findings. Australia-based director Peter Barnes oversaw the process for News Corp.'s board’s governance committee.

Items as small as milk for tea rooms and as large as payments for editorial columnists and news wires were examined, validated and documented by the audit teams, News Corp. said.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai

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