Ian Burrell: NI's standards committee once looked like a fig leaf. Now some say it's the enemy within
The Management and Standards Committee is being criticised for throwing journalists to the wolves
Ian Burrell is Assistant Editor and Media Editor at The Independent, i paper and Independent on Sunday. He covers news from the whole media sector from television, press, radio and advertising to technology. His weekly column on the media appears every Monday in The Independent and i paper. He also writes on media, music and culture, including long-form pieces for The Independent’s Saturday magazine and the Independent on Sunday’s magazine, New Review. He is a regular presenter of BBC Radio 4’s What The Papers Say and a specialist commentator to Monocle 24 radio. He has contributed to most major broadcast outlets including BBC television and radio, CNN, Sky News, Al Jazeera and LBC. He has also written on media for GQ magazine. Ian has been reporting on the media industry for The Independent for more than a decade. Previously he was the newspaper’s Home Affairs Editor. He worked at The Sunday Times for five years, including as a member of the investigative Insight team, covering stories on political funding, industrial espionage and the arms industry. Previously he worked in ITV for London Weekend Television, on a weekly current affairs programme presented by Danny Baker. Ian trained at the Birmingham Post & Mail and was Regional Reporter of the Year in Press Gazette’s national awards.
Monday 13 February 2012
There has always been a bunker mentality at News International, which makes it all the harder to deal with a perceived enemy within. So the resentment directed at some second-floor offices at the Thomas More complex where Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers are based, is considerable. "There's a sense of betrayal," said one source from The Sun.
The offices in question are home to the Management and Standards Committee (MSC) which News Corporation set up last year to root out criminality and malpractice. Every morning, around 100 personnel – a mixture of lawyers, forensic accountants, police officers and specialist computer analysts – arrive for work at the offices, which have their own security system and are inaccessible to the staff of News International.
Among the companies represented are the law firm Linklaters, PricewaterhouseCoopers, the forensic IT consultants Stroz Friedberg and, of course, Scotland Yard. Some 300 million emails, taken from News International computers, are being scrutinised for possible criminal offences.
The work is being overseen by a committee headed by Lord Grabiner QC, one of Britain's leading corporate lawyers. Alongside him is an in-house lawyer, Jeff Palker, News Corp's general counsel for Europe and Asia. But it is the other two executive members of the MSC, both former journalists, who have provoked deep-felt anger in NI newspapers. The MSC's Will Lewis is the former group general manager of NI and was previously editor of The Daily Telegraph. Simon Greenberg, Associate Editor and Head of Sport, was once a sports editor on the News of the World under the editorship of Rebekah Brooks. "If Will Lewis came into The Sun newsroom now there would be a riot," said one source. "The Sun wasn't on the police radar until the MSC started handing over material."
News Corp sees itself as being caught between a rock and a hard place. When it established the MSC it was derided as a fig-leaf body designed to give an impression of good corporate governance. Now, after its inquiries have led to the arrest of most of the star performers on Britain's best-selling paper, the committee is being criticised for throwing journalists to the wolves.
False rumours were circulating among Sun journalists yesterday that Lewis and Greenberg had taken a skiing holiday to coincide with a series of arrests last month. There is also bitterness over an MSC comment referring to the cleansing process as "draining the swamp". And there was further unhappiness that a rallying email from The Sun's editor Dominic Mohan was issued as an NI statement rather than a message to staff. The feeling at Thomas More Square is increasingly one of "Whose side are you on?"
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