'The Sun' reporters fear closure amid new scandal

Rupert Murdoch will fly to Britain this week to deal with a spiralling new crisis in his media empire after five staff at his tabloid The Sun were arrested on corruption charges, sources have said.

The Australian-born tycoon said he was committed to the UK's biggest selling paper, but employees reportedly fear he could close The Sun as he shut the News of the World last July amid a scandal over phone hacking.

The latest allegations, involving Sun journalists bribing police and public officials for information, are a new blow for Murdoch's US-based News Corporation, which also owns Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.

Murdoch will come to London "later in the week'', a person familiar with the matter told AFP. The person said Murdoch's visit had already been planned before the arrests happened.

Another source close to the matter said he would meet with journalists at The Sun to reassure them about the future of the paper, which he bought in 1969 and which sells around 2.5 million copies a day.

In an email to staff on Saturday, Tom Mockridge, the chief executive of Murdoch's British newspaper subsidiary News International said that Murdoch would stand by The Sun in the hour of its "greatest challenge''.

"You should know that I have had a personal assurance today from Rupert Murdoch about his total commitment to continue to own and publish The Sun newspaper,'' Mockridge said.

The Sun journalists arrested on Saturday were deputy editor Geoff Webster, picture editor John Edwards, chief reporter John Kay, chief foreign correspondent Nick Parker and reporter John Sturgis.

A Ministry of Defence official, a member of the armed forces and a policeman were also arrested over allegations that journalists paid officials for information.

All eight were later released on bail.

The arrests were part of a widening Scotland Yard probe into alleged corrupt payments, and come a fortnight after another four current and former Sun journalists were arrested over similar allegations.

A British minister on Sunday said it was clear that the country needed a tougher regulatory system for the Press, following an inquiry into the ethics of the country's newspapers set up by Prime Minister David Cameron.

"I think a consensus is emerging that there does need to be some structural changes in the way the Press is regulated,'' Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC.

British media reported that many journalists at The Sun were furious over the so-called 'witch-hunt'', and at the fact that News Corp. had handed over the information to police that led to the arrests.

US-based News Corp. set up the Management and Standards Committee, an independent committee, last year to investigate wrongdoing at Murdoch's British papers.

The trip has echoes of when Murdoch flew over to London in a hail of publicity in July after the 168-year-old News of the World was shut down when it emerged it had hacked the phones of crime victims, politicians, royals and celebrities.

The paper has already made compensation payments of millions of pounds (dollars, euros) to hacking victims.

Commentators said News Corp. would be keen to stop its operations in the United States and other countries from being contaminated by the problems at the The Sun and the News of the World.

The Observer - the weekly sister paper of the Guardian which led investigations into hacking - said there were fears in News Corp that the British bribery allegations could trigger an investigation by US authorities under legislation prohibiting corrupt payments to foreign officials.

In July, police arrested Rebekah Brooks, the former News International chief executive, and Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor who went on to become spokesman for David Cameron.

They were questioned both over phone-hacking and over corrupt payments.

The scandal also raised questions about the Murdoch empire's influence on politicians and police, and claims that police failed to properly investigate led to the resignations of the chief of Scotland Yard and one of his deputies.

- AFP

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