REPORTING FROM LONDON -- Amid an incipient staff revolt, media mogul Rupert Murdoch told journalists at the Sun on Friday that he remained committed to the racy tabloid and that a brand-new Sunday edition would launch "very soon," thus assuring Britons of seven-day-a-week access to celebrity gossip, snarky editorials and photos of women's breasts.
The announcement that Murdoch would be further contributing to the cultural life of Britain was greeted with relief and elation inside the Sun newsroom, where journalists had begun lashing out in recent days at his stewardship of News Corp., which owns the Sun and the Times of London, among other British titles.
The tabloid's staff has been angered by the recent arrests of several senior reporters and editors in investigations stemming from the phone-hacking scandal that has shaken Murdoch's global media empire. Many at the Sun feel that News Corp. has failed to defend them and their work as vigorously as it should, preferring instead to sacrifice them in order to protect the company's American interests.
The beleaguered Murdoch flew in to London on Thursday to deal with the crisis. He met with Sun employees Friday to assure them of his "immense respect" and his determination "to see The Sun continue to fight for its readers and its beliefs," as he wrote in a company-wide email.
At the same time, he said News Corp. had no choice but to cooperate with official investigations into allegations of illegal news-gathering practices, such as hacking into private cellphones and bribing police officers for information.
"We will turn over every piece of evidence we find –- not just because we are obligated to but because it is the right thing to do," Murdoch wrote.
News Corp. has been accused by a judge of having deliberately tried to thwart an investigation into its now-shuttered News of the World and of destroying evidence of widespread phone hacking. Now, some journalists at the Sun and some of its sister papers are worried that the pendulum has swung the other way, with News Corp. executives so eager to show themselves as cooperative that they are selling senior reporters and editors up the river.
So far, 10 Sun employees have been arrested in Scotland Yard's investigation into police payoffs, but none of them have been charged. Murdoch said anyone suspended from work because of the arrests would be reinstated and, unless formally charged, would have his or her legal expenses covered by News Corp.
Murdoch is known to have a soft spot for the Sun, Britain's bestselling daily paper, a Monday-through-Saturday scandal sheet famous for its topless "Page 3 girls."
Launching a Sunday version would help him fill the hole created by the closing of the News of the World last July, and would create job opportunities for employees who lost their jobs in the process.
Staffers and associates of the now-defunct weekly tabloid are believed to have hacked into the cellphones of hundreds of celebrities, politicians and athletes. Outrage that the paper was also involved in illegally accessing the voice mails of a 13-year-old girl who had been kidnapped and was found murdered resulted in Murdoch's decision to shut down the News of the World after 168 years in print.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: A protester wearing a mask depicting Rupert Murdoch stages a rally against the media mogul outside the headquarters of News International in London on Friday. Credit: Lefteris Pitarakis / Associated Press