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2nd Murdoch Tabloid Focus Of Bribery Scandal


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm David Greene.

Let's go to Britain now, where a second newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation is now the focus of scandal. As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, police investigators say at the Sun tabloid, there was a culture of illegal payments aimed at creating a network of informants within the government.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Over the past week, Rupert Murdoch has been in fine form in London as he personally helped to oversee the launch of his leading daily tabloid to a seventh edition, with the brand-new Sun on Sunday. Murdoch told staffers, quote, for 43 years, the Sun has been a tremendous force for good.

It was a jaunty note to strike. Ten current and former Sun journalists have been arrested on suspicion of bribery. And yesterday, Deputy Assistant Police Commissioner Sue Akers offered her testimony at a formal inquiry into the newspaper scandals.

SUE AKERS: The payments have been made not only to police officers, but to a wide range of public officials. So there are categories as well as police - military, health, government, prison and others. This suggests that payments were being made to public officials who were in all areas of public life.

FOLKENFLIK: Akers had a pointed characterization of what that had created.

AKERS: The current assessment is that it reveals a network of corrupted officials.

FOLKENFLIK: And that has implications for the Sun newsroom as well.

AKERS: There also appears to have been a culture at the Sun of illegal payments, and systems have been created to facilitate those payments whilst hiding the identity of the officials receiving the money.

FOLKENFLIK: In the U.K., journalists can cite the public interest to ward off prosecution for illegal acts they have committed to acquire information. But Akers said the vast majority of the stories instead involved salacious gossip, and the invasion of privacy.

News Corp. closed the Sun's sister Sunday paper, News of the World, last summer at the height of the cellphone voicemail-hacking scandal. This new round of arrests at the Sun represents a second wave of the scandal, focused on bribery. Sun associate editor Trevor Kavanagh earlier told the BBC the inquiry was a witch hunt by police, who are themselves under scrutiny.

TREVOR KAVANAGH: On the basis of the evidence that's been suggested to those who have been arrested so far, it's pretty flimsy stuff.

FOLKENFLIK: Some British journalists are suggesting the arrests stem from little more than buying a round of beer for the cop on the beat. Akers specifically rules out such minor fraternizing. She says the investigation only involves monetary payouts. Some were significant, often sustained, and seemed to have been approved by senior executives at the paper.

The evidence investigated by police was actually handed over by an internal inquiry set up by News Corp., in part to show American authorities it's taking allegations of bribery seriously, to head off any prosecution or investigation under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Mike Koehler is a professor of business law at Butler University who specializes in that federal law.

MIKE KOEHLER: The notion that FCPA enforcement actions only involve the suitcase full of cash to government leaders to get government contracts - that ship has already left the harbor.

FOLKENFLIK: Koehler says Akers' testimony ratchets up pressure on News Corp. In a statement, Rupert Murdoch once more vowed to get to the bottom of earlier wrongdoing. And he added, quote: The practices Sue Akers described at the Leveson inquiry are ones of the pasts and no longer exist at The Sun. We have already emerged a stronger company.

David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.