LONDON — Fresh evidence of a “civil war” at News Corp. has emerged following what commentators have interpreted as an extraordinary attack by the Murdoch-owned U.K. tabloid The Sun on its parent company.
In a signed article, published Monday, one of Murdoch’s most loyal British journalists, Trevor Kavanagh, an assistant editor at the Sun, accuses the British police and politicians of conducting a “witch hunt” against Sun journalists.
He said that Sun journalists and their families have been treated like “members of an organized crime gang.”
“Wives and children have been humiliated as up to 20 officers at a time rip up floorboards and sift through intimate possessions, love letters and entirely private documents,” he wrote.
Kavanagh added: “It is absolutely right the company co-operates with police on inquiries ranging from phone and computer hacking to illegal payments. We are right to hand over any evidence — emails, expense claims, memos — that might aid those inquiries.
“It is right that those inquiries are carried out separately from the journalists under investigation. Nobody on the Sun was aware in advance that 10 colleagues were about to be nabbed.
“It is also important our parent company, News Corp., protects its reputation in the United States and the interests of its shareholders.
“But some of the greatest legends in Fleet Street have been held, at least on the basis of evidence so far revealed, for simply doing their jobs as journalists on behalf of the company.”
Kavanagh’s opening line that the Sun “is not a ‘swamp’ that needs draining” is a reference to reports that a member of News Corp.’s Management and Standards Committee, set up last summer to investigate phone hacking at News International, had described its work as “draining the swamp”.
Former Sun assistant editor turned professor of journalism at London’s City University, Roy Greenslade, interviewed by the BBC, said that Kavanagh’s outburst amounted to the clearest evidence yet of what he described as a “civil war” at News Corp.
Five Sun journalists, including deputy editor Geoff Webster, were arrested February 11 over allegations of bribing public officials.
News Corp.’s U.K. subsidiary News International, which owns the Sun, gave assurances following the arrests that Murdoch remained committed to publishing the paper, which is believed to be the world’s 10th best-selling newspaper.
The media mogul is expected to personally reassure Sun journalists later this week during a scheduled trip to London that there are no plans to shutter the Sun.
Murdoch closed his U.K. Sunday tabloid, the News of the World, following revelations about phone hacking last July.
But if more arrests follow, events may once again spiral out of control.
Andrew Neil, the former editor of Murdoch’s the Sunday Times, tweeted: “In many ways the crisis at the Sun is bigger than the one Murdoch faced at the News of the World.
“And his most loyal newspaper has turned against him.”
As Kavanagh implies, News Corp.’s strategy is to appease the authorities, and so protect the vastly more valuable U.S. arm of his empire by being seen to be doing everything to clean up practices at his British newspapers.
But according to Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff even dawn raids on Sun journalists may not be enough to save Murdoch.
Writing in the Guardian on Monday, Wolff said: “Murdoch’s companies are poisoned, by his own aggressiveness, as well as by the culture of British tabloids themselves…
“The air itself is poisoned by a public animus the like of which has not been seen since Richard Nixon was run out of Washington.”