REPORTING FROM LONDON -- Britain's bestselling tabloid launched a blistering attack on the police Monday for arresting five of its journalists over the weekend in an investigation into media corruption and unethical practices in the wake of the country's phone-hacking scandal.
Scotland Yard is treating reporters at Rupert Murdoch's The Sun "like members of an organized crime gang," complained Trevor Kavanagh, the paper's associate editor. He lashed out at what he called a police "witch hunt," warned that Britain was falling behind former Soviet bloc countries in terms of press freedom and criticized police raids on journalists' homes during which officers sifted through "intimate possessions, love letters and entirely private documents."
Never mind that the Sun's sister publication, the News of the World, was closed down last summer over allegations of illegal hacking of cellphones on an industrial scale. Or that the Sun prides itself on salacious stories peering into the intimate, private love lives (and documents, when it can get them) of movie stars, politicians and athletes.
Kavanagh said the multiple investigations spawned by the hacking scandal had become disproportionate and sucked police resources away from more important matters such as stopping terrorism.
Police arrested the five Sun journalists, some of them senior staff members, as part of an investigation into media and police corruption -- namely, the practice of paying officers for information and tips.
At least two dozen journalists from Murdoch-owned titles, mostly from the News of the World, have been arrested so far in Scotland Yard's corruption and hacking probes. But no one has been formally charged.
"Yet all are now on open-ended police bail, their lives disrupted and their careers on hold and potentially ruined," Kavanagh wrote, adding: "When the police get matters so far out of proportion, we are entitled to ask: Who polices the police?"
He defended payments for information as standard practice for journalists both "here and abroad." (Most mainstream American newspapers forbid such payments.)
Some media watchers say that Kavanagh's attack on the police was also an oblique criticism of executives at News International as too willing to sell their employees up the river. News International is the British arm of Murdoch's giant News Corp. and owns the Sun and the Times of London, among other publications.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Britain's bestselling tabloid The Sun. Credit: Leon Neal / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images