Hacking contagion spreads to other UK newspapers

Which might take some of the heat off Rupert Murdoch, facing blanket condemnation in the UK Parliament and demands that he drop News Corporation’s bid for BSkyB, except that the only new paper to be outed so far is the Sunday Times, also owned by News Corp’s News International.

The Sunday Times, which lodges at a much posher end of the spectrum than the now defunct News of the World, is accused by former UK PM Gordon Brown of illegally accessing his private information in pursuit of a story that he bought a flat in Westminster on the cheap. He accuses the paper of using ‘known criminals,’ for this purpose, presumably convicted felon Jonathan Rees.

Rees’ Southern Investigations was also used by the Daily Mirror during the reign of Piers Morgan as well as numerous other papers.

And all these other newspapers will surely come under the spotlight as the coalition government is being pressed (including by its own members Nick Clegg and Vince Cable) to widen the judge-led inquiry into hacking to other papers too.

Given that Rees and his cohorts (and there may well other ‘private investigators’ involved who we don’t know about yet) were using illegal methods on behalf of News International, it seems a no-brainer that they were exercising the same illegal (and lucrative) expertise for their other customers in journalism.

These, as far as we can see, include every other paper on what used to be Fleet Street except the sainted Guardian and the Financial Times.

In the meantime the Murdoch empire is fighting back. The BSkyB bid is safely parked in the Competition Commission, whatever the House of Commons says this afternoon.

The empire has announced it is to increase an already planned $1.8bn buyback of its stock to $5bn, which stopped (temporarily maybe) the slide in its share price. This may even serve to increase the 40 per cent dominant holding in the company’s voting stock that is held by the Murdochs (giving them effective control) as they are unlikely to sell any shares.

And the company is likely to try to fend off circling US regulators and politicians by promoting COO Chase Carey to CEO in place of Rupert Murdoch (as we suggested yesterday), leaving Rupert as chairman.

In the meantime it’s just a pity for the Murdochs that the only other paper under fire at this minute is their Sunday Times.

But it won’t stay this way for long. If anybody knows where the bodies are buried it’s the Murdochs (despite their apparent ignorance of doings at their own News International) and their past and present employees.

Expect these insights to be shared with a disbelieving public very soon.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.