News Corporation owner Rupert Murdoch is due to appear in the Sun’s London newsroom today to reassure them that he won’t sell them down the river (the Thames flows nearby) in the wake of a number of arrests of senior Sun journalists suspected of paying police officers and other official types.
The trouble is, he just might.
Murdoch has already closed his profitable Sunday tabloid paper The News of the World in the wake of the phone hacking scandal. If the Sun has to go the same way to take the heat off News Corp, which now makes nearly all its money from film and TV, then it will.
As former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil told CNN the other day: “At the moment it appears he is ready to sacrifice the journalists and journalism in London to do whatever it takes to be seen to be cleaning up his act there so that it will play better in the United States. The consequence of that is quite amazing – the Sun, which is the most loyal newspaper Murdoch has ever owned – now believes it is being hung out to dry and the Sun journalists are turning against them (Murdoch executives).”
Murdoch’s position now is that News Corp will continue to own and publish the Sun and that is certainly what he would prefer. The Sun has always been his favourite paper and Sun journalists approached life with a considerable swagger in their step because they knew the boss loved them. Legendary Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie once told UK prime minister John Major that he was planning to pour a (metaphorical) bucket of shit over him. He would never have said that to Murdoch, Rupert was much more important.
But News Corp’s management (if such it is) of the fire at British newspaper company News International (the investigations now include posh papers The Times and the Sunday Times too) is now in the hands of a gaggle of US in-house lawyers, some heavyweight law firms and the company’s own management standards committee, which is accused by journalists of revealing their sources to the police investigations. So far the affair has cost News Corp north of $200m, not to mention its reputation.
If the Sun does meet the same grisly fate as the News of the World then the British popular newspaper industry, long regarded as being in terminal if still profitable decline, will spark into life.
The most obvious beneficiary is maverick Richard Desmond (pictured) who owns the Daily Star, the Star on Sunday and the Daily Express as well as OK! magazine, the ‘National Health Lottery’ and terrestrial TV station Channel 5.
Desmond has already extracted a fortune from his newspapers by cutting costs savagely and turning them into celebrity-led comics. Dirty Dickie (he owns a number of pay-porn digital channels too) could be in for an even bigger windfall.