News Corp sets up hotline for staff to report 'illegal activity'

 

Journalists at News International (NI) and other staff in Rupert Murdoch's media empire have been told to call a hotline to report suspicious colleagues in a fresh clampdown on corruption and other illegal activities.

The instructions to call an "alertline", following the introduction of the Bribery Act earlier this year, come after revelations that journalists from the company's defunct newspaper, the News of the World, paid serving police officers for information.

The policy, circulated by Eugenie C Gavenchak, News Corp's chief compliance and ethics officer, stresses that employees are under an obligation to report colleagues, and suggests they use a dedicated line, which is "available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year". It states: "Employees who suspect... violations of this policy must report them to the legal department of the business unit or of News Corporation, or to the News Corporation alertline."

News Corp promises to give legal support to those who wrongly accuse a fellow employee. "If you make an honest complaint in good faith, even if you are mistaken as to what you are complaining about, the company will protect you from retaliation," its policy states.

The development comes as a team of Metropolitan Police officers is conducting Operation Elveden into suspected payments made by NI journalists to police officers. The operation was launched after NI passed a series of emails to Scotland Yard. The emails are reported to suggest that some police officers were being paid by the newspaper between 2003 and 2007. The investigation is being led by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers and being supervised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

NI has assigned the legal firm Linklaters to question departmental heads over past practices. Linklaters is currently conducting an audit of emails passing through the news desk of The Sun, as part of a review of journalistic standards. News Corp sources have said it is incorrect to speculate that any inappropriate activity on any other NI titles could be inferred from the review.

The News Corp policy, set out in a six-page document, warns that British bribery laws and other legislation introduced in other parts of the world mean that employees can face bribery accusations over such things as charity donations or excessive hospitality.

It is especially strict on the subject of bribing public servants. "Gifts and hospitality that may be perfectly acceptable among private parties can be completely forbidden when the other party is a government official."

Some NI journalists receiving the circular were concerned about the implications for them entertaining valued contacts who provide them with information. The policy warns: "Under no circumstances should gifts, entertainment or hospitality be given by you to others in order to improperly influence someone to act favourably towards the company." Any hospitality "must be reasonable in value, respectable in type or venue [and] have a legitimate business purpose", it adds.