News Corp. Intensifies Internal Bribery Investigation

Five senior journalists at the News Corp.-owned Sun in London were arrested on charges involving bribes of police and military personnel over the weekend. The arrests resulted from News Corps.' own internal investigation and the company's own newly-aggressive stance point to its increasing vulnerability to US investigation under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

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The scandal that engulfed Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. is threatening another of his newspapers in the UK. The News of the World has already been shuttered after revelations of phone hacking and bribery. Now, there have been arrests at The Sun tabloid.

As NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik tells us, that raises the legal stakes for News Corp. on both sides of the Atlantic.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: The Sun tabloid is in turmoil. Five senior figures at the paper, including the deputy editor, the chief reporter and the chief foreign correspondent, were arrested on suspicion of bribing public officials. Others arrested included an employee at the British Ministry of Defense, an active duty member of the British military and a police officer.

Sun associate editor and columnist Trevor Kavanagh spoke to BBC Radio earlier today.

TREVOR KAVANAGH: I think that the newsroom is full of people who feel deeply unhappy about the way that their colleagues who they've worked alongside for sometimes decades and who they respect and admire as supremely professional operations have ended up being arrested, searched, put on police bail and suspended from their duties.

FOLKENFLIK: In a column, Kavanagh called the investigation of The Sun and other tabloids a witch hunt, saying the offenses appeared minor, just reporters doing their jobs. He reserved special anger for the fact that police based their arrests on evidence handed over by an investigative panel set up by News Corp. itself.

KAVANAGH: Well, there's certainly a mood of unhappiness that the company is proudly - certain parts of the company are actually boasting that they're sending information to the police which has put these people I've just described into police cells.

FOLKENFLIK: The Sun's sister tabloid, News of the World, was shut down last summer after mounting allegations of widespread hacking of mobile voicemails and payoffs to police for private information.

So far, the price tag for the scandal stands at more than $400 million, including closing costs, lost revenues and bills for fighting, investigating and settling the allegations. A series of civil suits, criminal investigations and governmental inquiries have ensued.

Last week, just a few days before the arrests, News Corp.'s chief operating officer, Chase Carey, told market analysts and reporters that the company was committed to its newspaper division and to quality reporting. But he also stressed the importance of a vigorous internal investigation overseen by two former assistant U.S. attorneys general.

CHASE CAREY: Our priority is to get on top of this and make things right and, you know, that's going to be our focus.

FOLKENFLIK: Former U.S. prosecutor Mark MacDougall says the claims of bribery could lead not just to charges against News Corp. in the U.K., but also more intense scrutiny under anti-corruption statutes here in the U.S.

MARK MACDOUGALL: We don't know how high this goes. I mean, it's one thing to, you know, talk to a desk sergeant at a precinct station house to get an arrest report and put that into your story, but when you're starting to get into sort of senior government officials, into principal ministries in the British government, that's what kind of information's being obtained there.

FOLKENFLIK: Usually, corporations facing such accusations cooperate intensely with authorities, as News Corp. now appears to be doing here, in order to sidestep criminal charges and to mitigate fines that can reach hundreds of millions of dollars. Such allegations can also be used to challenge News Corp.'s right to control television operations in the U.K. and the U.S.

But, for now, Rupert Murdoch does not seem inclined to sacrifice The Sun. He has to fly to London after a previously scheduled corporate board meeting in New York City tomorrow. He'll reassure The Sun's journalists that they will continue to publish for years to come.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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