Rebellion at The Sun Threatens to Derail News Corp.'s Clean-Up Program

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Rupert Murdoch

The growing rift between newspaper journalists and their bosses shows no signs of the abating as staff at the newspaper consider mounting legal challenge against News Corp.’s Management Standards Committee.

LONDON – Rupert Murdoch is flying to London to take personal charge of the growing firestorm at The Sun newspaper. The News Corp. boss is expected to be in the newspaper's offices in Wapping, East London on Friday, as the crisis surrounding staff arrests deepens.

Sources close to the paper say there is a “sense of mutiny” among staff and a belief among journalists that they have been “betrayed” by News Corp. management in a bid to protect the media giant's corporate interests.

Angered by the way that the internal investigation unit the Management Standards Committee has handed emails, computer files and expense documentation to the police squad investigating bribery allegations, staff are now looking at options involving a legal challenge to the internal investigation squad.

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Ten staff members, including the deputy editor, the chief reporter, the chief foreign correspondent, the picture editor and the deputy news editor, have already been arrested in relation to bribery allegations.

In an unprecedented move it is understood that a group of journalists is looking into the option of challenging News Corp.’s actions in the European Court of Human Rights.

The Guardian has reported that a group of Sun reporters are looking at hiring human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC to fight their case, arguing that News Corporation has a duty to protect journalistic sources – instead of divulging them to the police.

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In an article in the The Sun’s sister newspaper The Times, Robertson urged Sun reporters to “fight for their rights.” 

The presence of the opinion piece, which effectively urges Sun reporters to sue The Sun and The Times’ parent company News Corp., suggests also that the rift between journalists and management has spread to other newspapers within the group.

Whether a legal case ensues or not, it is difficult to see how the civil war at the heart of Murdoch’s newspaper operation can benefit the London-based titles in the long-run.

Earlier in the week respected journalist Trevor Kavanagh, the longtime political editor of The Sun, broke cover with a piece attacking the police for treating journalists like “an organized crime gang.”

Kavanagh’s piece – a shot across the bows which could not have been published without the approval of News International bosses – also pointed out a “sensitive domestic issue within the News International family,” writing that while News Corp. was protecting its reputation in the US and the interests of its shareholders, “some of the greatest legends in Fleet Street have been held – at least on the basis of the evidence so far – for simply doing their jobs as journalists on behalf of the company.”

Others, including National Union of Journalists head Michele Stanistreet have said that journalists on the paper feel they have been “thrown to the wolves.”

Beyond Murdoch’s own attachment to the newsprint business, there is little positive sentiment for the titles amongst News Corp.’s other shareholders, some of whom believe the entire London-based newspaper unit has now become a toxic brand.

They have good reason to feel anxious at the apparent scale of wrongdoing at the newspaper group, since any substantiated allegations of bribery – be it of police or public officials – could trigger an FBI investigation into News Corporation under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

When news of the second round of arrests began leaking out on Saturday, News International CEO Tom Mockridge said he had Murdoch’s personal assurance that The Sun would not be closed.

But as the mogul prepares to face the civil war in his own newsrooms first hand, the endgame for the UK newspaper division becomes ever less clear.