Murdoch backs paper, says he won't close it

LONDON — Another five journalists at News Intl.’s best-selling U.K. tabloid, the Sun, have been arrested over alleged payments to police and other public servants.

The developments escalate the phone hacking and police corruption scandal that has already forced Rupert Murdoch to close his profitable Sunday tabloid, the News of the World, and robbed the mogul of his once considerable U.K. political clout.

Following today’s arrests, News Intl.’s new CEO Tom Mockridge issued a statement to Sun staff saying that Murdoch remained committed to the paper.

The five are deputy editor Geoff Webster, picture editor John Edwards, chief reporter John Kay, chief foreign correspondent Nick Parker and deputy news editor John Sturgis.

This follows the arrest of four current and former Sun journalists two weeks ago.

Murdoch is expected to visit the Sun in London next week amid speculation that if criminality is found to be widespread it will suffer the same fate as the News of the World and be shuttered.

Mockridge nixed the rumor, assuring staff in an email, “The Sun has a proud history of delivering ground-breaking journalism. I have had a personal assurance today from Rupert Murdoch about his total commitment to continue to own and publish the Sun newspaper.”

News Corp. said its Management and Standards Committee (MSC), controlled from New York and formed in July when the hacking scandal went toxic, had given information to the police inquiry leading to the latest arrests. Others arrested include a police officer, a member of the British armed forces and a civil servant employed by the Ministry of Defence.

The company said in a statement, “News Corp. remains committed to ensuring that unacceptable news-gathering practices by individuals in the past will not be repeated.”

The U.K.’s National Union of Journalists condemned the latest arrests.

General secretary Michelle Stanistreet said, “Journalists are reeling at seeing five more of their colleagues thrown to the wolves in what many sense to be a witch hunt. They are furious at what they see as a monumental betrayal on the part of News Intl.”

Media analyst Claire Enders, a chronicler of the phone hacking saga, said the Sun’s future should not be in doubt as it “hasn’t experienced any specific loss of sales as a result of the arrests that occurred earlier in the year.”

But Clive Hollick, the U.K. businessman who once controlled part of terrestrial web ITV, tweeted that the arrests will intensify the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act probe into News Corp. and “may lead to fines, director oustings and asset sales.”

He also suggested it could impact Murdoch’s 39% stake in U.K. pay box BSkyB.

Hollick tweeted: “Will Ofcom (the U.K. media regulator) conclude that Sun arrests on top of hacking render NI not fit and proper to hold Sky license and make them sell shareholding?”

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