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Murdoch media crisis deepens with five new arrests

Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who made and broke British prime ministers, now appears powerless to thwart investigations into alleged misdeeds by his empire.

By Staff writer / February 13, 2012

Copies of The Sun newspaper are displayed at a kiosk in London on Monday. Rupert Murdoch is under pressure over his Sun tabloid after the arrests of several senior staff in a corruption probe, but whistleblowers inside his media empire may pose more of a threat than the public outrage that forced the closure of its sister paper, News of the World weekly, after allegations of phone hacking.

Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters

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Paris

The famed Rupert Murdoch tabloid scandal-mills are grinding yet again.

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After five senior journalists at Murdoch's tabloid The Sun in London got arrested Feb. 11, the billionaire media mogul is again the subject of gawking and speculation. The arrested face charges of bribing public officials for information.

The arrests suggest that the Murdoch crisis is not a sensational one-time British event that climaxed with last summer’s phone-hacking scandal, but is instead deepening. Allegations of misdeeds by his media empire, fed in part by disgruntled Murdoch employees, are being pursued at the highest levels of the British establishment – signaling a distinct shift from years in which his incredible sway served as a strong deterrent to such scrutiny, analysts say.

Yet the man who made and broke British prime ministers and politicians seems unable to do much about the slow grinding of multiple investigations into News Corp. behavior and alleged cover-ups.

Murdoch “had an easy ride for decades with total political cover,” argues James Curran, head of media studies at the University of London. “Now, in the space of a few months, this changed. The political class in Britain provided cover for Murdoch; they were cowed by [News International]."

As an example, he points to the change in fortunes for News International's former chief executive and Murdoch protégé Rebekah Brooks, who was arrested in July last year.

"In 2003 Rebekah Brooks could actually testify that they paid police, which is illegal, under the assumption she was protected," Professor Curran says of Ms. Brooks, who was editor of the Sun from 2003 to 2009. “So now we see the political cover by the political class has been exposed to the rigors of the law.”

Murdoch's iron grip profoundly weakened

The Murdoch crisis blew up in July 2011, just days before the Australian-born magnate – already owner of Fox and Sky News – was to acquire control of the British satellite cable company BSkyB.

That deal was supposed to be the crowning moment to seal the commercial clout of Murdoch's globe-spanning News Corp.

Instead, the revelation that Murdoch journalists had hacked into the phone messages of a 13-year-old murdered girl and others shocked Britain and profoundly weakened Murdoch’s influence in British politics.

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