LONDON Feb 13 Rupert Murdoch will face
hostile and angry staff when he arrives in Britain this week
seeking to face down a growing rebellion within his newspaper
business and end the talk that his flagship Sun could close
following a string of arrests.
Those close to the media mogul expect the 80-year-old to
show far more composure and calculation when he addresses
journalists on a hostile newsroom floor, compared with his
conduct last July when he suddenly shut the News of the World
paper in the face of public revulsion over phone hacking.
"No one can imagine quite the pressure he was under in
July," said one person familiar with the situation.
"The pace of it was incredible, it was very emotional and
traumatic. This is very different."
Unlike in July, readers and, most importantly, advertisers
have shown little reaction to news over the last two weeks that
nine current and former senior staff have been arrested and
questioned over payments made to police and other officials.
Politicians, who spectacularly turned on Murdoch following
the admission that his journalists hacked into the phones of
murder victims and Britain's war dead, have also held back in
the knowledge that calling for the closure of the biggest
selling newspaper would be a dangerous move to make.
But despite the different scenario, Murdoch is still under
huge pressure. The FBI and other American government agencies
have stepped up their hunt for signs of illegality at a
U.S.-based company. A case brought under the Foreign Corrupt
Practices Act could result in fines of millions of dollars.
He is also under fire from within, having opened an internal
investigation that resulted in the latest arrests and led to the
talk among frightened and angry staff of a witch-hunt.
And he has few options as bankers say no company would want
to buy the Sun or his Times newspapers until they have been
thoroughly investigated. For so long one of the most powerful
men in Britain, Murdoch is now effectively powerless to act.
Speaking from his experience as the editor of the Sunday
Times for 11 years, Andrew Neil told Reuters: "The Sun has
turned against Rupert Murdoch."
"He has put in place things he cannot stop. The Sun was the
(UK paper) most loyal to Murdoch. It was closest to his heart.
Now Sun journalists believe he has launched a witch-hunt to
"He won't be welcomed. They won't believe his promises.
They're sullen. They're resentful. They feel betrayed."
THROWN OFF A CLIFF
One company source told Reuters that staff felt let down and
as if they had been thrown off a cliff by a man who used to
champion their work. The source said the provocative tabloid had
long been the 'apple of Rupert's eye', generating cash that
enabled expansion elsewhere in Britain.
Now staff are bracing themselves for more arrests. A sense
of siege mentality has developed while journalists are openly
consulting lawyers to discuss the law and their rights.
"This is not just rank and file staff but people in the
editorial chain of command of the Sun who are livid at the way
their colleagues have been treated," a company insider said.
Much of the anger within News International, Murdoch's
British newspaper arm, is directed at the unit set up by News
Corp to root out any evidence of illegal behaviour, a group that
includes the award winning journalist Will Lewis, previously the
editor of the rival Daily Telegraph.
The Management and Standards Committee was set up at the
height of the furore over phone hacking and was designed to
rescue the company's reputation. However to some, it has become
part of the problem as Murdoch now has little control.
The small committee is working alongside up to 100 personnel
from top London law firms as well as forensic advisers and
computer experts searching through more than 300 million emails,
expense claims, phone records and other documents.
Some 15 or 20 police officers are actually embedded with the
cleanup team and the committee is often asked to conduct
specific searches and pass information back to the police.
While the committee has come under intense fire, there is
practically very little that the group can do. Any attempt to
hide information from the police or tip off journalists could
result in criminal charges for those involved.
It also redacts any sensitive information to prevent police
from learning the identities of confidential sources. Despite
this, fears have grown that well placed sources will no longer
want to talk to the Sun and Times journalists.
In a sign of the ill feeling towards the group, staff on the
MSC file in to their office through special security to avoid
other News International staff and work in soundproofed offices.
Analysts and bankers are adamant that however uncomfortable,
efforts to clean up the paper are vital if News Corp is
to ever consider selling the papers.
According to people familiar with the work of the MSC, it
could take at least another 18 months.
In a sign of how important the committee's work is
considered within the wider News Corp group, the company's new
top corporate lawyer Gerson Zweifach has joined the committee, a
separate source familiar with the situation told Reuters.
Roy Greenslade, a London professor of journalism who has
worked for Rupert Murdoch, said the media veteran was in a very
difficult place because he could not order the MSC to pull back
their efforts, meaning he is instead left to try and appease
"I can't imagine he'll close the Sun," he said. "It's a
hugely profitable paper, it keeps the Times and Sunday Times
going and it would literally be him saying goodbye to his whole
kingdom and I think that is a step too far at this stage.
"Last July was the first time he's ever done something out
of panic but I think he'll be back to coldly calculating on this
I'm sure. He's very aware of the fickleness of the public. The
steps he will take will be very cleverly measured."