The past few days have seen a dramatic realignment of forces in the phone-hacking scandal. Until a week ago it seemed that the Murdoch Press was excoriated by almost everyone: polite society, the liberal intelligentsia, the police, hacking victims, newspaper rivals and politicians. Tabloid journalists working for Mr Murdoch were all tarred with the same brush.
Then came the second wave of arrests of Sun journalists over alleged corrupt payments to the police – and everything changed. Though some incorrigible haters of Murdoch welcomed the arrests, others who might not have been predictable defenders of The Sun became concerned. They saw that important issues of press freedom were at stake, and deplored the way in which the Management and Standards Committee, a Star Chamber set up by Mr Murdoch, had apparently passed information to the police revealing the identity of journalists' sources.
The National Union of Journalists weighed in on the side of the Sun journalists, as did Geoffrey Robertson QC, in a magnificent piece in The Times. He urged journalists to stand up for their rights, arguing that protecting sources is a legal and moral duty.
Mr Murdoch, it seems to me, is making few concessions to Sun journalists. The launch of a new Sunday title was intimated by him to a Commons committee last July. The reinstatement of the arrested journalists was an act of natural justice. But the inquisition goes on, and the notion that the MSC is free to give police the sources of Sun journalists is not questioned. Mr Murdoch is a ruthless man who believes he has to show investors the stables have been hosed down. If this involves transgressing a sacred tenet of journalistic conduct, tough.
And yet he may not have things all his own way. The involvement of the NUJ and Mr Robertson, as well as the voices raised in the rest of the Press on behalf of the Sun journalists, give me heart. What Sun journalists are perhaps beginning to understand is that their interests and those of Mr Murdoch are no longer the same. Is it too much to hope that inveterate Murdoch-bashers will concede that not all Sun journalists have been engaged in the Devil's work, and that some of what they do may even be in the public good?Reuse content