The battles within Rupert Murdoch's newspaper empire are only getting worse.
The Times, one of Murdoch's own papers, revealed Tuesday that News Corp. has given the names of some of its journalists' anonymous sources to police. The report, which is behind the paper's paywall online, is sure to cause another round of internal skirmishing within News Corp., which has broken out into what some are calling a "civil war."
Journalists inside News Corp. and its British division, News International, are said to be furious at upper management, including the Murdochs, for their willingness to cooperate so extensively with police. In addition, the latest round of arrests at the Sun have left employees there feeling betrayed and adrift, darkly telling other news outlets that the Murdochs are using their reporters as human shields since the arrests emanated from information given over by News Corp. itself. (As one senior executive told the Mirror, "there is nothing the Murdochs will not do to protect their own backs.")
On Monday, senior Sun editor Trevor Kavanagh issued an extraordinary broadside against the police and, indirectly, the Murdochs, saying that the paper had been subjected to a "witch-hunt" more appropriate for the Soviet Union than Britain.
The Times' Ben Webster wrote on Tuesday that News Corp.'s Management and Standards Committee, which was formed to handle the fallout from the phone hacking crisis, has decided that some of the sources reporters used at the Sun and the News of the World are not "legitimate" because they were paid for information, and can therefore be identified to police. (Scotland Yard has been conducting a long-running investigation into corrupt payments to public officials by journalists.) Six of those sources have since been arrested, including police officers, a member of the civil service and an officer in the army.
The decision received a rebuke from the UK's National Union of Journalists, which warned that News Corp. could potentially be endangering whistleblowers.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Management and Standards Committee defended the work the group was doing.
"The information handed to police is [connected to] unlawful material," the spokesman said. "The information is redacted to ensure that lawful journalistic inquiries are not threatened...this is about significant payments to a number of state officials that appear to be in breach of the law."
Murdoch and his senior executives are presumably not very inclined to worry about journalistic ethics, since they are engaged in the far more desperate act of trying to save themselves. The Guardian reported on Monday that News Corp. could risk being charged with "willful blindness" in the U.S. if it can be proven that people at the company deliberately shielded themselves from knowledge of corrupt payments to public officials in Britain.
News Corp. is also having a hard time finding a friend in Downing Street. The Independent reported Tuesday that The Sun asked the Prime Minister's office to back up Kavanagh's assertions. The cold reply: "It is for the police to decide how they deploy police officers."
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