Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, shown in a 2011 summit on education reform in San Francisco, has been recorded calling wrongdoing by his British newspapers "next to nothing" and apparently acknowledging that his reporters paid police officers for information. / Noah Berger AP
Scotland Yard detectives are trying to track down a purported secret recording of media mogul Rupert Murdoch allegedly telling journalists from The Sun newspaper that he was aware that paying public officials for news tips was part of the "culture of Fleet Street," The Guardian newspaper reports.
On the tape, obtained by the British investigative website Exaro and broadcast last week in part on Channel 4, Murdoch allegedly admits he was aware of the practice of bribing public officials.
The comments were made during a purported meeting in March between Murdoch and nearly two dozen reporters and executives from The Sun who had been arrested over allegations of illegal news-gathering practices.
More than 60 journalists and public officials have been arrested in connection with the probe, dubbed Operation Elveden, that grew out of an earlier scandal involving phone-hacking. Many of the arrests stemmed from information the Murdoch media group voluntarily turned over to police, The Guardian has reported.
At one point, Murdoch tells the journalists, "It's the biggest inquiry ever, over next to nothing."
On the recording, which Exaro says was made by a participant in the meeting, a Sun journalist asks Murdoch, "I'm pretty confident that the working practices that I've seen here are ones that I've inherited, rather than instigated."
The voice identified as Murdoch responds, "We're talking about payments for news tips from cops: that's been going on a hundred years. You didn't instigate it."
Earlier in the tape, The Guardian reports, Murdoch tells the journalists: "I don't know of anybody, or anything, that did anything that wasn't being done across Fleet Street and wasn't the culture."
At another point in the tape, Murdoch appears to suggest that any journalists convicted and jailed in connection with the police inquiry could get their jobs back, although he was apparently reluctant to say so directly.
"I will do everything in my power to give you total support, even if you're convicted and get six months or whatever," he says.
"You're all innocent until proven guilty. What you're asking is: what happens if some of you are proven guilty? What afterwards? I'm not allowed to promise you -- I will promise you continued health support -- but your jobs. I've got to be careful what comes out -- but, frankly, I won't say it, but just trust me."
The Guardian reported that a Scotland Yard detective told Exaro News that the police would seek a warrant to seize the tape if it was not turned over voluntarily.
Murdoch shut down the 100-year-old News of the World, his flagship Sunday paper in Britain, in response to a scandal of phone hacking and payments to police for news tips.
News UK, formerly known as News International, has maintained that the 82-year-old news magnate, whose worldwide empire includes The Times of London, The Australian, Fox News, and The Wall Street Journal, strongly denied that Murdoch had prior knowledge of payments by his journalists to public officials.
According to The Daily Mail, a spokesman for News UK, the British division of News Corp, said Murdoch: "never knew of payments made by Sun staff to police before News Corporation disclosed that to U.K. authorities. Furthermore, he never said he knew of payments. It's absolutely false to suggest otherwise.'
The Mail quoted Labour MP Tom Watson as noting that Murdoch's comments on the purported tape contrasted with his contrite appearance before a House of Commons committee investigating the various scandals.
'There is a man who sat before Parliament and said he had the highest integrity, they were working their way through it, cooperating with the police, and people who hacked phones or paid police would be immediately dealt with, and then you hear him assuring people that if they go to jail they might get their jobs back," Watson told Channel 4 news.
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