In Britain, many are expecting significant political and business fallout from the phone hacking scandal that has forced the closure of News of the World (NotW), Britain's largest-circulation paper and a pillar of Rupert Murdoch's media empire in the country.
The increased scrutiny on NotW has put a fresh spotlight not only on phone hacking but also another controversial practice: journalists paying police for secrets, referred to here as "bunging."
While some claim that's standard behavior for British reporters, allegations that NotW paid police $160,000 has some up in arms.
“I think people are shocked when it is clearly something that has been initiated by the police. In these cases we seem to be seeing the police [officers] selecting whom to release the information to and at what cost,” says Barry Fitzpatrick, national press organizer for the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).
“It could lead to worse things, in terms of corruption," he says.
Jack Irvine, a former executive for News International – which owns NotW and Mr. Murdoch's other print media holdings in Britain – says bunging has been "commonplace in British journalism for as long as I've been in it, probably before."
"There's always been a very close relationship between reporters and policemen," adds Mr. Irvine, now chairman of the public relations firm Media House. "It might be as innocuous as a relationship where someone goes for a pint with someone. At other times, a journalist might be asked for 10 quid [pounds], 20 quid, 50 quid. It goes on, it has always gone on. I'm not saying it's right, but it does go on."
Report: NotW paid $160,000 in police bribes
While NotW's imminent closure has shocked many in Britain, some speculate that it was motivated not so much by a desire to atone for an ethical lapse than an effort by its patron Murdoch to save a major media deal with satellite network BSkyB.
Broadcast media regulator Ofcom is charged with deciding if News Corporation is a “fit and proper" potential owner of BSkyB. The body today sent a letter to John Whittingdale, the ruling Conservative party’s chairman of the culture, media, and sport select committee, saying it wished to be kept informed of the ongoing investigations.
Asked by the Monitor if he felt the scandal would destroy the BSkyB deal, Mr. Fitzpatrick of the NUJ said: “You would think so.”
A reported 160,000 people have contacted Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt on the proposed takeover, hoping to make their views clear.
The Guardian, which has been leading the investigation into the NotW’s use of phone hacking, reported yesterday that the newspaper paid bribes of 100,000 pounds ($160,000) in 2003 alone.
That's the year that Andy Coulson became editor. Mr. Coulson went on to become a senior press adviser for Prime Minister David Cameron, but was forced to resign earlier this year when new developments emerged about the extent of NotW's phone hacking practices. He was arrested Friday and later released on bail.
Mr. Cameron sought today to distance himself from the scandal, though he also described Coulson as "a friend."
"I gave him a second chance, and it didn't work out, it was my decision to hire him and my decision alone and I take full responsibility for it," he told reporters at a press conference.
Charities leery of NotW
The final edition of 168-year-old NotW, currently the best-selling English language newspaper in the world, will roll off the presses Saturday night for sale on Sunday. It will contain no commercial advertising and News International says all sales revenue will go to charity.
The newspaper's attempt to make up for its misdeeds is not going down well in the charity sector, according to Rob Cope of Remember A Charity, an organization that promotes bequests to charitable causes.
"There were certainly three household name charities that have turned down advertising," he says.
Remember A Charity, for one, had discussions via its advertising agencies but felt it could not go ahead with the move on ethical grounds.
"Charities rely on the public trust and the stories around the News of the World's practices are showing they've lost that and created ill feeling among the public," he says.