February 16, 2012 / 10:53 PM / 8 years ago

Murdoch arrives in London to quell staff backlash

LONDON (Reuters) - Rupert Murdoch flew in to London on Thursday to address growing anger at his newspaper business and seek to reassure journalists of his commitment to their work.

News Corp Chief Executive and Chairman Rupert Murdoch arrives in central London February 16, 2012. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Murdoch arrived at Luton airport on Thursday evening and made no comment to reporters waiting outside his home in London.

On Friday he will address a hostile audience of Sun and Times journalists following a string of arrests of senior staff.

During the meeting, he is expected to tell staff he intends to keep the newspapers and will listen to their concerns.

On the agenda will be why he formed an internal committee to trawl through 300 million emails, expense accounts and notebooks in the hunt for signs of illegality, which led to the arrests of some of the most senior and revered staff on the Sun tabloid.

The formation of the internal group, known as the Management and Standards Committee (MSC), was part of Murdoch’s attempt to get back on top in Britain after he had to close the Sun’s sister title the News of the World last year over a phone hacking scandal.

But such close cooperation with the police has infuriated staff and sparked talk of a witch-hunt amongst journalists and their sources by a media owner who used to champion their work.

“The management has done nothing to protect us from this appalling invasion of our work,” one company insider told Reuters. “Nobody has said, ‘You can’t do this to journalists’. A lot of people are angry.”

In the most recent arrests, five senior Sun journalists were held along with a police officer and other public officials, prompting staff and lawyers to complain that the details of anonymous sources were being handed over to the police.

“Every media organization has a duty to assist the police in uncovering serious crime. But it also has a fundamental duty to protect the sources that have been cultivated by its journalists under a promise of anonymity,” Geoffrey Robertson, a prominent human rights and media lawyer, told Reuters.

The very public spat has also exposed the widening division within News Corp, between the more freewheeling and highly aggressive culture of the London newsrooms and the corporate headquarters in New York, where staff have been shocked by the tactics employed by British staff.

The under-fire committee, which includes the award winning journalist and former Daily Telegraph editor Will Lewis and the pr executive Simon Greenberg, reports directly to New York and is under instruction to investigate the allegations thoroughly.

Far from apologising, the company said it felt it had to act after Lewis and Greenberg endured an uncomfortable meeting with the officer overseeing the inquiry last year.

Sue Akers told a parliamentary committee that she had met Lewis and Greenberg to discuss “our very different interpretations of the expression ‘full co-operation.’”

“Subsequent to that meeting, I can say that relationships have been much better,” she said.

The police were themselves heavily criticised for their initial response to allegations that Murdoch journalists had hacked into phones, with the two most senior London officers standing down over the affair.

And the force is now leaving no room for doubt over its seriousness in confronting the allegations.

Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball and Michael Holden; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo

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