Murdoch to launch new U.K. Sunday paper

Arrested Sun journos return to work

LONDON — News Corp. is to launch a Sunday edition of the Sun, the top selling U.K. tabloid that has been under scrutiny since the arrest of 10 of its present and former journalists in recent weeks on allegations of bribing public officials.

The conglom’s chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch said Friday that a Sunday edition of the Sun would be published “very soon.”

In an email to staff he said: “Our duty is to expand one of the world’s most widely-read newspapers and reach even more people than ever before.”

The move would aim to plug a perceived hole in the U.K. newspaper market created by last July’s shuttering of the Sun’s Sunday sister, the News of The World, closed following revelations of phone hacking at the tabloid.

The Sun is published Monday thru Saturday and is believed to be the 10th best-selling paper in the world.

It remains highly profitable, but despite this success the paper’s future has been questioned following the arrest of senior journalists working for the tabloid.

These arrests were the result of evidence given to News Corp.’s Management and Standards Committee, set up last summer when the phone-hacking scandal became toxic to investigate allegations of widespread criminality.

On Friday Murdoch arrived at the East London HQ of News International, which publishes his U.K. papers, to give reassurances to disaffected Sun staff who believe some of their colleagues have been subjected to a “witch hunt” by the MSC.

In his email to staff he said he would give his “unwavering support” to staff and that the suspensions of Sun journos doled out as a result of the arrests would be lifted.

“We’re doing everything we can to assist those who are arrested,” said Murdoch.

“All suspensions are hereby lifted until or whether charged and they are welcome to return to work. Everyone is innocent until proven otherwise,” he added in the email.

However, the News Corp. topper also gave his backing to the MSC, publicly criticized earlier in the week by Sun associate editor Trevor Kavanagh, who has always been close to Murdoch.

“We will turn over every piece of evidence we find — not just because we are obligated to but because it is the right thing to do,” Murdoch said.

He stressed: “We will obey the law. Illegal activities simply cannot and will not be tolerated — at any of our publications. Our board of directors, our management team and I take these issues very seriously.”

Murdoch is keen to be seen to be doing everything he can to clean up his U.K. newspapers to avoid being prosecuted and fined in the U.S.

On Friday he promised to make News International “an example to Fleet Street of ethical journalism.”

The News Corp. chief said: “We will continue to ensure that all appropriate steps are taken to protect legitimate journalistic privilege and sources, which I know are essential for all of you to do your jobs.”

However he also warned: “But we cannot protect people who have paid public officials.”

In the email, addressed pointedly to “colleagues,” Murdoch said he had “worked alongside you for 43 years to build the Sun into one of the world’s finest papers.

“It is a part of me and is one of our proudest achievements. The Sun occupies a unique and important position within News Corporation.”

He praised staff for their “exceptional journalism” and said they “work tirelessly every day to ensure our readers have access to such a trusted news source.”

Murdoch concluded his email by saying that “having a winning paper is the best answer to our critics.

“I am even more determined to see The Sun continue to fight for its readers and its beliefs.

“I am staying with you all, in London, for the next several weeks to give you my unwavering support.

“I am confident we will get through this together and emerge stronger.”

The Sun has always occupied a special place in Murdoch’s affections by virtue of what he regards as its anti-establishment credentials and perceived political clout.

Murdoch watchers went into hyper-drive in the U.K. Friday.

Some are seeing the apparent presence of Lachlan Murdoch in London as a sign that he is being lined up to take charge of the U.K. newspapers now that James Murdoch, who runs News Corp.’s European and Asian interests, is based in the U.S.

But News International is reportedly briefing that James asked his brother to accompany Rupert to the U.K. because he had other commitments.

The former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil tweeted: “James Murdoch’s been written out of script as Rupert defends Sun and promises Sunday edition. He loves his tabloids and his son doesn’t.”