Scandal and schadenfreude in London as The Sun self-destructs

The Sun is facing a crisis of its own as revelations of police bribery emerge. EPA

It is difficult not to supress a satisfying shiver of schadenfreude as one watches the saga of the self-immolating Murdoch Empire play itself out.

The latest episode – breath-taking in its sheer chutzpah – involves journalists from The Sun using the “hated” Human Rights Act against their own employer, who they believe has compromised their integrity (such as it is) by breaching the unwritten code of maintaining the confidentiality of journalistic sources.

The hacks’ anger follows the recent arrests of nine current and former Sun journalists, two police officers, a Ministry of Defence employee and a member of the armed forces – all in relation to alleged illegal payments to public officials.

The arrests came as a result of information passed to Scotland Yard detectives by News Corporation’s own Management and Standards Committee (MSC). The MSC was set up in July last year in response to the company’s initial failure to adequately address allegations of both phone hacking and a too-close-for-comfort relationship with the police.

The committee has been trawling through a reported three million emails and revelations have been emerging which suggest that, not just the now defunct News of the World, but also at the Murdoch-owned Sun, Times and Sunday Times had engaged in journalistic practices a long way from the right side of ethical behaviour.

Events have been gathering apace. On Monday the Sun’s Associate Editor Trevor Kavanagh, who had until now been one of Rupert Murdoch’s most staunch supporters, came out with a full-bloodied attack on the police investigation, and by implication on the MSC as well.

In an article headlined “Witch-hunt has put us behind ex-Soviet states on Press freedom” Kavanagh wrote, “The Sun is not a "swamp” that needs draining.“

This was seen by many observers as an attempt to stymie News Corp’s undermining of the Sun’s credibility as a precursor to closing it down (a course of action thought to be favoured by a growing number of non-executive News Corp directors in the US, who fear the continuing contamination effects of the UK press scandals on the company’s American holdings).

But back to the schadenfreude, which was not solely borne of Kavanagh’s disloyal indignation. For following Kavanagh’s intervention, swathes of Sun journalists were beating a path to sign up to the National Union of Journalists, an organisation de-recognised by News International after they moved newspaper production to Wapping in East London in 1986 as part of an attempt to smash the print and journalist unions.

The schadenfreuede was only increased when the Murdoch-owned Times gave prominence to an article by left-wing lawyer Geoffrey Robertson (also originating from Australia), which called upon Sun journalists to stand up and fight for their rights against attacks from their own management in the form of the MSC investigation.

And all this just hours before Rupert was due to fly into London on what News International PRs assured us was a scheduled visit, and nothing whatsoever to do with the current troubles at Wapping. Nevertheless, a much-chastened Murdoch will be far from comfortable at the turn of events at his once beloved Sun.

The latest contribution to the schadenfreude-fest is the news that Sun journalists, second to none in the vitriol they have poured on the British Human Rights Act over the years, have now asked the National Union of Journalists if it will fund them taking their own management to court on the grounds outlined by Robertson.

And guess who they have asked to represent them? Robertson himself.

So the London courts could soon see one veteran Aussie campaigner up against another. In the words of Richard Littlejohn, one of the Sun’s most high profile columnists (until he deserted to the Daily Mail), you couldn’t make it up.

Unless, that is, you worked on the Sun, in which case making it up is virtually mandatory.

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