It’s been a while since I’ve checked in on the phone hacking scandal in Britain, and there’s actually big news on that front today that could bring lots more pressure on News Corp. A new statement from a police chief investigating the scandal alleges that reporters at the tabloid The Sun gave bribes to public officials habitually.
Hours after Rupert Murdoch’s defiant gamble of launching a Sunday edition of the Sun, the head of the police investigations into illegal behaviour by journalists spelled out startling details of what she called a “culture of illegal payments” at the title.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers told the Leveson inquiry that one public official received more than £80,000 in total from the paper, currently edited by Dominic Mohan. Regular “retainers” were apparently being paid to police and others, with one Sun journalist drawing more than £150,000 over the years to pay off his sources.
“The cases we are investigating are not ones involving the odd drink, or meal, to police officers or other public officials,” she said. “Instead, these are cases in which arrests have been made involving the delivery of regular, frequent and sometimes significant sums of money to small numbers of public officials by journalists.”
This may not have the staying power and emotional thrust of hacking into the phones of celebrities and news subjects. But it’s far more of a breach of law. The Sun bribed public officials for their articles as part of their news-gathering model. And according to Akers, senior executives knew about it. This opens up News Corp to all kinds of inquiries and violations of law, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act here. The Guardian predicts that hundreds of millions of dollars in fines could result, not to mention prison time. Ten journalists at The Sun have already been arrested.
This also spreads the conduct from the now-shuttered News of the World to The Sun, and calls into question the entire culture of the British news-gathering operations under the control of News Corp.
Rupert Murdoch already had to release a statement to respond to the allegations:
Murdoch gave a statement after Akers’s evidence saying: “She [Akers] said the evidence suggested such payments were authorised by senior staff at the Sun.
“As I’ve made very clear, we have vowed to do everything we can to get to the bottom of prior wrongdoings in order to set us on the right path for the future. That process is well under way.
“The practices Sue Akers described at the Leveson inquiry are ones of the past, and no longer exist at the Sun. We have already emerged a stronger company.”
There’s no denial in there at all.
Prediction: this will get extremely ugly for News Corp.