Last month, Private Eye reported that Sun journalists had taped a meeting with Rupert Murdoch in March 2013. The Executive Chairman of News Corporation was quoted as taking a supportive view of the position of arrested journalists. This story was not followed up at the time. It broke again this week when the investigative journalism website, Exaro and Channel 4 News claimed an exclusive on the story and released a transcript of the recording.
On the tape Mr Murdoch makes some candid statements, apparently at odds with his publicly stated views. He rages against the police
“I mean, it’s a disgrace. Here we are, two years later, and the cops are totally incompetent … Why are the police behaving in this way? It’s the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing”
He takes the view that the arrests of Sun journalists are “outrageous”:
“I don’t know of anybody that did anything that wasn’t being done across Fleet Street and wasn’t the culture. And we’re being picked on“.
Later on he said of, “payments for news tips from cops”,
“that’s being going on a hundred years … you didn’t instigate it … I would have thought 100% … at least 90% of payments were made at the instigation of cops saying, ‘I’ve got a good story here. It’s worth 500 quid’ or something. And you would say, ‘No, it’s not’ … And they’d say, ‘Well, we’ll ring the Mirror…’ It was the culture of Fleet Street”.
Mr Murdoch was, however, defended by a spokesman for News Ltd who told Channel 4 News:
“No other company has done as much to identify what went wrong, compensate the victims and ensure the same mistakes do not happen again. The unprecedented co-operation granted by News Corp was agreed unanimously by senior management and the board, and the MSC [News Corp management and standards committee] continues to co-operate under the supervision of the courts. Rupert Murdoch has shown understandable empathy with the staff and families affected and will assume they are innocent until and unless proven guilty.”
This did not persuade the victims of phone hacking and other alleged illegal activities by News Group newspapers. The campaigning group Hacked Off called for Mr Murdoch to be recalled by the House of Commons Culture Media and Sport Committee. Dr Evan Harris, the associate director of the group, wrote to the cross-party committee’s chairman, John Whittingdale MP, saying:
“There is a strong prima facie case that Mr Murdoch may have committed contempt of parliament by misleading your committee over his true response to the police investigations into phone hacking and bribery of public officials. As far as the victims of phone hacking are concerned, the appropriate course of action is for the committee to recall him at the earliest available opportunity to explain the discrepancies between the expressions of remorse he made to you and the defiant and unrepentant tone of his private remarks earlier this year.”
However, a spokeswoman for the Committee later said it was “unlikely” Mr Murdoch would be recalled.
In an interesting new development to the story yesterday, it was reported that the police were taking an interest in Mr Murdoch’s remarks. DCI Laurence Smith has apparently asked Exaro News to hand over the undercover tape. He is said to have told Exaro News that the police would seek a production order compelling it to disclose the recording if it did not do so voluntarily. It appears the police have also approached Channel 4, which aired a small part of the recordings.
It seems likely that we have not heard the last of the “Murdoch tapes” and the payments culture of Fleet Street.