REPORTING FROM LONDON -- News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch flew into London on Thursday night to confront a hostile news staff on his favorite tabloid The Sun on Friday morning.
Police inquiries into illegal phone hacking led to the arrest of 10 of the Sun’s staff in recent weeks on allegations of corruption and bribing police officials, and reports Friday spoke of a crisis meeting and civil war in the newsroom which could define the future of the popular tabloid.
All 10 were released on bail but their arrests have generated ill feelings toward Murdoch and his News Corp. Management and Standards committee set up by him to collaborate with police and which provided names and information prompting the arrests and house searches of former and present staff.
On Saturday, five journalists, including senior editors and journalists, were questioned by police and their houses were searched. Police have also conducted searches of the east London offices of News International, the British arm of the Murdoch News Corp. media empire and publisher of The Sun and sister papers The Times and Sunday Times.
They were the latest arrests in police investigations after Murdoch's decision in July to close his other popular tabloid, the News of the World, after revelations that the paper had illegally tapped the phone of teenage murder victim Milly Dowler.
Since then, civil and police inquiries have mushroomed, triggering around 30 arrests of public officials, media executives and journalists, the resignation of senior police officers and a radical review of ethics and practices by British journalists searching for scoops on celebrities and crime victims.
Furious at what they see as betrayal by their owner, who was responsible for handing over millions of emails and other documentation revealing journalists’ confidential sources, Sun staff hit back via Associate Editor Trevor Kavanagh bitterly talking a few days ago of a "witch hunt" and claiming journalists doing their job were “treated like members of an organized crime gang.”
As Murdoch met with staff at the headquarters of News International, speculation was rife as to the Sun’s future. Murdoch faces fierce questioning within News Corp. as to how much he and his son James, News International's chief executive, really knew about the widespread use of phone hacking and other unethical practices by their British staff despite their assertions that they were aware of only one rogue reporter.
Despite his well-reported deep-seated love for his British tabloid, many see him ready to sacrifice the Sun in the interests of his survival at News Corp.
-- Janet Stobart