War in Wapping: The Sun arises – and the press bites back

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

After months of unremitting criticism, journalists came out fighting after the arrest of five colleagues – and Rupert Murdoch blinked

Apart, obviously, from Wendi, his coil-sprung wife, Rupert Murdoch has two great loves. One is News Corp, the multibillion-dollar business he has dedicated his life to creating, which gives him power and money. The other is The Sun, the swaggering red-top he bought in 1969, 10 years before he created News Corp, which embodies everything he loves about journalism: gossip, scandal and the ability to stick two fingers up to the establishment.

Over the past 33 years, these two passions have shared a single trajectory, as News Corp is the ultimate owner of The Sun. But as of last week, their paths have diverged dramatically, and Mr Murdoch has been forced to decide which he loves more. The Sun has become engulfed in a toxic scandal over allegations its staff have paid police officers for stories, and shareholders in New York, where News Corp is based, are anxious. Andrew Neil, a former editor of The Sunday Times who worked for Mr Murdoch for 11 years, says power and money will win out, and predicts Mr Murdoch will cut the paper loose.

That's certainly how it looked last weekend, when staff at The Sun accused Mr Murdoch of throwing them to the wolves, after five senior staff members were arrested in dawn raids. But in a week that has seen an extraordinary civil war open up at News International, the UK division of News Corp, culminating in Mr Murdoch arriving in an attempt to pacify all sides on Friday, nothing about the future of Britain's biggest-selling newspaper can now be said to be certain.

To anyone outside Fleet Street, the internal politics of a newspaper are generally of little interest. Over the past eight months, the press has been writing about itself more than ever, since allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World prompted the paper's closure in July, triggering investigations into media standards, most notably the Leveson inquiry. After the MPs' expenses scandal and the outcry over bankers' bonuses, it looked as if it was time for journalists to take their turn in the stocks.

And for much of the past eight months, few could dare to complain. The hacking of a murdered schoolgirl's voicemail was so distasteful that, even if you thought subterfuge was justified for other stories that really were in the public interest, you kept quiet. But last week's events at Wapping now signal the start of a fight-back. The most obvious indication of this was the astonishing announcement that an entirely new Murdoch paper was to be born, The Sun on Sunday, rumoured since the demise of the NOTW. Mr Murdoch made it official by telling staff in an email it would be on newsstands "within weeks".

The second fillip was his announcement that the 10 staff who had been arrested and suspended from work were welcome to come back. To many, this was much more significant, because it showed that even if the police suspected them of being criminals, their proprietor believed them innocent until proven otherwise.

The problem, of course, is that they may be found to have paid police officers for stories, which is illegal. The former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie yesterday defended the practice, recalling his own habit of giving the police bottles of whisky when he was a cub reporter on a local paper. He argued that officers were only passing on information that his readers were "entitled to know". The problem for Sun journalists may be that it wasn't just crime stories they were buying, but celebrity tittle-tattle, which might struggle to find a public interest justification. In any case, there's no flexibility in the law: paying police officers for anything is illegal.

A new hate figure emerged out of last week's war at Wapping in the form of Will Lewis – the NI man helping the police with their investigations, which led to the arrests. He's the prize-winning ex-editor of The Daily Telegraph, who led the paper's exposure of the expenses scandal, before leaving to become an executive at News International in the summer of 2010. It's an irony not lost on many that the man reviled by MPs for heaping them with ordure is now doing the same to journalists. For last July, he was appointed to head the Management and Standards Committee, an internal but independent unit within News International, which is now wading through 300 million emails and selecting evidence of wrong-doing to hand to the police.

When he took on that role, Mr Lewis was given effectively the same choice Rupert Murdoch is now faced with: between loyalty to News Corp, and to its UK newspapers, which include The Times and The Sunday Times. What became brutally evident last week was that Mr Lewis has chosen News Corp. The arrests were almost calculated to drive a stake through The Sun, because they targeted journalists with among the most loyal following at The Sun.

While Mr Lewis is not flinching from the task at hand, his willingness to hand over confidential information to the police has opened him to accusations of hypocrisy. He has never disclosed the identity of the source to whom he paid £150,000 for the stolen expenses CD, which was smuggled out of the House of Commons. When he gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry, he said: "Core to any journalist – and I'm included – is the protection of journalistic sources, whether they're my sources or someone else's sources."

And yet the MSC, led by Mr Lewis, has plainly compromised sources in its handing over of evidence to the police, so much so that the chairman of the Lords communications committee spoke out. "The employer does have a very important role in the protection of whistleblowers," said Lord Inglewood, after his committee published a 79-page report on the future of investigative journalism on Thursday. "A proper employer protects the acts of a responsible journalist and his sources."

Mr Lewis may have ended last week as a greater bogeyman than Rupert Murdoch, but only because he has entirely embraced the culture of ruthlessness that caused this scandal in the first place. As Andrew Neil said: "You create a climate in which people think it's all right to do certain things, and I would argue that Rupert Murdoch, with his take-no-prisoners attitude to tabloid journalism, the end will justify the means, do whatever it takes, created the kind of newsroom climate in which illegal activities like phone hacking took place."

Since the closure of the News of the World, that climate of confidence at its sister paper has long gone. A sign still hangs over the entrance to the newsroom saying: "Hold your head up, you're entering Sun country." Now, spirits are finally lifting once again, but the future of Sun country remains far from certain.

Rupert Murdoch may have pulled off a brilliant trick by announcing a new newspaper, but it's done little to appease News Corp shareholders. Mr Murdoch has bought time, but the test of his two loves remains.

A week in 'The Sun'

Saturday 11 Feb Eight arrested in dawn raids and taken for questioning, including five Sun staff, bringing thetotal to 10.

Last Sunday Staff come in to Wapping to put out Monday's paper without key players. Amanda Platell accuses the left-wing media of obsessing on the story.

Monday Associate editor Trevor Kavanagh defends The Sun, saying the police have treated staff like terrorists.

Tuesday Former Sun columnist Richard Littlejohn likens Scotland Yard to the Stasi.

Friday Murdoch spends seven hours at Wapping, addressing executives and staff. Announces launch of The Sun on Sunday.

Wednesday Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson says journalists must be allowed to protect their sources.

Thursday Rupert Murdoch flies into Luton from New York on his private jet.

Yesterday Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie defends the journalistic practice of getting stories from police officers.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
New Articles
tvChristmas special reviewed
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Brand Marketing Manager - Essex - £45,000 + £5000 car allowance

£40000 - £45000 per annum + car allowance: Ashdown Group: Senior Brand Manager...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer /.NET Software Developer

£26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer /.NET Software ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

Guru Careers: Technical Operations Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Technical Ope...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all