Murdoch facing battle with staff in Sun showdown
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.world Updated: Feb 14, 2012 21:11 IST
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 US-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.
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.
According to people familiar with the work of the MSC, it could take at least another 18 months.