IN MARCH Rupert Murdoch met several of the Sun journalists who have been arrested over allegations of paying public officials. The way they were being treated by police, he told them as several tape recorders secreted around the room ran, was “just outrageous…
“I don’t know of anybody that did anything that wasn’t being done across Fleet Street and wasn’t the culture. We’re being picked on, I think... We’re talking about payments for news tips from cops. That’s been going on for a hundred years, absolutely… It was the culture of Fleet Street.”
The Dirty Digger even implied that the former director of public prosecutions, Lord Ken Macdonald QC, felt the same: “He decided not to go after it because it was all too petty and too complicated.” Macdonald was hired as a legal adviser to News International in 2011 until, in Murdoch’s words, “he realised it was too embarrassing and had to give it up.”
‘We might have gone too far’
Most of the arrests have resulted from News International setting up its Management and Standards Committee (MSC) which decided voluntarily to hand over reams of material to police which not only incriminated Sun journalists but also “outed” their sources, a huge journalistic no-no. No one, it turns out, regrets turning copper’s nark more than Murdoch himself.
“I’m sure we’ve made mistakes… We were working under the belief that the police were about to invade the building and take all the computers out and just put us out of business totally… If you want to accuse me of a certain amount of panic, there’s some truth in that. We might have gone too far in protecting ourselves, and you were the victims.”
‘My total support’
Only one group had benefited, he said. “The lawyers just got rich going through millions of emails, stuff I wouldn’t even have thought was suspicious, but they thought ‘hand it over’.” He did at least assure the hacks that the MSC had stopped providing evidence to the police; they apparently “haven’t given them anything in months.”
So what could the hacks who are currently on bail expect should their cases go to trial (since the meeting four have been charged, two told their cases have been dropped, and four public officials jailed for selling information)? “I’ve been told I must not give guarantees,” Murdoch told the meeting, “but I will do everything in my power to give you my total support, even if you’re convicted and you get six months or whatever.”
‘Just trust me’
He would, he assured the hacks, be quite prepared to ignore the advice of his lawyers to do so. And if, as one hack was tasteless enough to inquire, the 82-year-old was no longer around himself at the conclusion of their cases, the next generation of Murdochs would see them right – although it would not be the hapless James, who cocked up the phone-hacking scandal so comprehensively.
“The decision will either be with my son Lachlan, or with Robert Thompson [chief executive of News Corp’s newly-spun off publishing wing], and you don’t have to have any worries about either of them.” Was he really saying they would be safe in their jobs even if they were convicted, he was asked again. “I’ve got to be careful what comes out – but frankly, I won’t say it, but just trust me.”