February 19 2012
– Rupert Murdoch came out fighting yesterday declaring his ‘unwavering support’ for Sun journalists and announcing that a Sunday version of the newspaper will be launched very soon.
The media mogul flew into Britain to grapple with the crisis engulfing his News International group and immediately lifted the suspension of all staff arrested over alleged phone and computer hacking and bribery of officials.
Staff have accused the company of a ‘witch hunt’ after an internal management committee passed information to police that led to the arrests of ten senior executives at the Sun.
All smiles at The Sun: Rupert Murdoch smiles confidently as he leaves his home in Green Park and heads to The Sun’s office yesterday
In a visit to News International’s headquarters at Wapping, East London, Mr Murdoch told staff: ‘Everyone is innocent unless proven otherwise.’
But he warned: ‘We will obey the law. Illegal activities simply cannot and will not be tolerated – at any of our publications.’
In an email, the 80-year-old News Corporation chairman said recent events were ‘a source of great pain for me, as I know it is for each of you’.
‘I’ve worked alongside you for 43 years to build The Sun into one of the world’s finest papers. It is part of me and is one of our proudest achievements,’ he said.
Journalists at the tabloid are angry that News Corporation’s Management Standards Committee gave police information – including the identity of sources – that led to the arrests, which include the deputy editor, picture editor and chief reporter.
Investigation: A detective leaves the home of Mike Sullivan, The Sun crime editor, with paperwork and other potential evidence last month after four of the paper’s journalists were arrested
The MSC, which was formed to clean up the company following the phone-hacking scandal, is trawling through internal emails and passing details of suspected illegal activity to Scotland Yard.
The Metropolitan Police has arrested and bailed the ten Sun journalists, nine of them held in dawn raids on Saturdays.
News International journalists fear further arrests.
All were immediately suspended on full pay in the wake of the arrests. But, Mr Murdoch said he was doing ‘everything to assist’ them, including paying their legal fees.
He said they were free to work until any formal charges are made against them.
He added: ‘Everyone is innocent unless proven otherwise.’
Despite the invitation, it was not clear if all nine journalists would return to work after it was reported that some were considering their options.
The heavy-handed police tactics have drawn strong criticism, with the Yard accused of diverting officers from murder, rape and terrorism investigations to join ‘Stasi-like’ raids against journalists.
Mr Murdoch, who dramatically closed down the News of the World last July at the height of the phone-hacking scandal, insisted journalists’ ‘legitimate’ confidential sources would be protected.
But he wrote: ‘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.
‘I made a commitment last summer that I would do everything I could to get to the bottom of our problems and make this company an example to Fleet Street of ethical journalism.’
Mr Murdoch said he planned to remain in London for several weeks and would build on the Sun’s ‘proud heritage by launching the Sun on Sunday very soon’.
Five staff at The Sun were arrested last weekend following information being passed to police by its parent company
‘IT’S A PART OF ME’: MURDOCH PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR THE SUN
I’ve worked alongside you for 43 years to build The Sun into one of the world’s finest papers. It is a part of me and is one of our proudest achievements. The Sun occupies a unique and important position within News Corporation.
I have immense respect for our heritage, your exceptional journalism and, above all, you, the talented women and men who work tirelessly every day to ensure our readers have access to such a trusted news source.
I believe this newsroom is full of great journalists and I remain grateful for your superb work and for the stories you uncover to inform and protect the public. None more so than over the last three weeks.
My continuing respect makes this situation a source of great pain for me, as I know it is for each of you.
We will obey the law. Illegal activities simply cannot and will not be tolerated – at any of our publications. Our Board of Directors, our management team and I take these issues very seriously.
Our independently chaired Management & Standards Committee, which operates outside of News International, has been instructed to cooperate with the police. 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.
We are doing everything we can to assist those who were arrested — all suspensions are hereby lifted until or whether charged and they are welcome to return to work. News Corporation will cover their legal expenses. Everyone is innocent unless proven otherwise.
I made a commitment last summer that I would do everything I could to get to the bottom of our problems and make this Company an example to Fleet Street of ethical journalism. We will continue to ensure that all appropriate steps are taken to protect legitimate journalistic privilege and sources, which I know are essential for all of you to do your jobs. But we cannot protect people who have paid public officials.
I am confident we can live by these commitments and still produce great journalism. We will build on The Sun’s proud heritage by launching The Sun on Sunday very soon. Our duty is to expand one of the world’s most widely read newspapers and reach even more people than ever before.
Having a winning paper is the best answer to our critics. I am even more determined to see The Sun continue to fight for its readers and its beliefs. I am staying with you all, in London, for the next several weeks to give you my unwavering support.
I am confident we will get through this together and emerge stronger.
Thank you, Rupert Murdoch
Labour leader Ed Miliband said yesterday he was ‘outraged’ that News Corporation executives were being criticised for co-operating with the police over claims of corrupt payments to public officials.
Mr Miliband insisted Rupert Murdoch was ‘absolutely right’ to uncover what had taken place at the paper – and that the company ought to have helped police ‘years ago’.
‘I must say I think the people being outraged about what News International is doing to cooperate with the police – I’m outraged at that,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
‘Of course News International should be co-operating with the police. There is evidence, there are allegations anyway, of criminal activity. It would be quite wrong for them not to cooperate with the police.’
Labour MP Tom Watson, who has been one of the leading figures campaigning against News International, said the launch of the new paper would not end the crisis.
He tweeted: ‘I’m told the PR line is to restate the plan for a Sun on Sunday. This will not draw a line under the crisis faced by News Corp in the UK.’
Despite Mr Murdoch’s charm offensive, many were still furious about the treatment of their colleagues at the hands of the MSC.
In a sign of how low relations have sunk, one senior staff member dubbed former editor of the Daily Telegraph Will Lewis, an MSC member, the ‘chief witch hunter’ and said there would be demands that he be sacked.
Sources close to the investigation believe they have uncovered evidence of ‘serious suspected criminality over a sustained period’ by some public officials supplying The Sun with information, dismissing the suggestion from some reporters that they were being investigated over ‘trivial’ matters, such as £50 lunches with sources.
The MSC has been feeding Operation Elveden, the police investigation into corrupt payments, with information over the past few months.
In all, 21 people have been held. The five members of Sun staff arrested last weekend were deputy editor of the paper Geoff Webster, chief reporter John Kay, picture editor John Edwards, deputy news editor John Sturgis and chief foreign correspondent Nick Parker.
Also held in the dawn raids were a 39-year-old Ministry of Defence employee and a 36-year-old member of the Armed Forces.
In January, senior members of The Sun’s newsroom were held by police and later released on bail.
They were head of news Chris Pharo, executive editor Fergus Shanahan, crime editor Mike Sullivan as well as former managing editor Graham Dudman and a 29-year-old police officer.
In July last year, former chief executive of News International and ex-Sun editor Rebekah Brooks was questioned by detectives as part of Operation Elveden and those involved with Operation Weeting, the investigation into alleged phone hacking by journalists.
In November, long-serving journalist Jamie Pyatt was also arrested in relation to allegations of corrupt payments to police officers.
The arrests followed the shock closure by News International of the News of the World in July last year after lurid phone hacking allegations emerged.
The new Sunday tabloid the Sun on Sunday will replace the News of the World.
No date has yet been announced for the first edition of the paper – but Mr Murdoch said it would be ‘the best answer to our critics’.
Journalists at The Sun, which is owned by News International, said they are the victims of a ‘witch-hunt’
– Charles Walford & Michael Seamark