Rupert Murdoch is flying to London after five of The Sun tabloid’s most senior staff have been arrested in ongoing inquiry into alleged bribery. The new arrests at Britain’s bestselling newspaper will further rock News International, which is still dealing with the closure last July of sister tabloid the News of the World over its journalists hacking voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, politicians and celebs.
Murdoch said he is pledging his support for the paper amid rumors that it faces closure. Murdoch’s “total commitment” to continue to own and publish the Sun was sent to News International staff by CEO Tom Mockridge after the journalists were arrested. Mockridge confirmed with the UK Guardian that the five journalists are deputy editor Geoff Webster, picture editor John Edwards, chief reporter John Kay, chief foreign correspondent Nick Parker and deputy news editor John Sturgis.
The Sun’s editor, Dominic Mohan, said: “I’m as shocked as anyone by today’s arrests but am determined to lead the Sun through these difficult times. I have a brilliant staff and we have a duty to serve our readers and will continue to do that. Our focus is on putting out Monday’s newspaper.”
A News International source said Mohan was not resigning.
Sky News reported that Murdoch is flying into the UK to reassure Sun staff that he will not close the paper in the wake of the latest arrests. Murdoch is expected to visit News International staff in London towards the end of next week.
In an email to News International staff, Mockridge said he “had a personal assurance today from Rupert Murdoch about his total commitment to continue to own and publish The Sun newspaper.”
Amid accusations from the National Union of Journalists that Sun staff were being sacrificed to save Murdoch’s reputation, Mockridge added that he had written to the Independent Police Complaints Commission to seek clarification on its oversight of the Elveden investigation into the Sun.
The worsening crisis at the tabloid could have wider ramifications for the Murdoch media empire. It could certainly intensify the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigation into News Corp. in the US. The arrests reportedly could lead to fines, director firings and asset sales in the UK. The developments could also lead to the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom reviewing Murdoch’s control of Sky television in the UK. But these are all worst-case scenarios.
A police officer, a Ministry of Defence employee and a member of the armed forces were also arrested at their homes on Saturday on suspicion of corruption, misconduct in a public office and conspiracy in relation to both. All five of the journalists, the Ministry of Defense employee and the member of the armed forces were released on bail on Saturday night until May (the police officer until March).