The Sun: Five senior journalists arrested at the weekend have been released on bailCredit: Lewis Stickley/PA
The Sun newspaper and the National Union of Journalists have condemned the Metropolitan police for leading a "witch hunt" against tabloid journalism, following another round of arrests this weekend.
Five senior journalists at the News International title were among eight people arrested in dawn raids on Saturday, over allegations of corrupt payments to police and other public officials.
News Corporation chairman and chief executive Rupert Murdoch is due to fly to London later this week to talk to staff at The Sun, which said in a leader article today that its "journalists are being treated like members of an organised crime gang.
Murdoch is expected to give his "total commitment" to the newspaper and deny rumours of a potential closure.
The journalists arrested on Saturday have been widely named in the press as deputy editor Geoff Webster, picture editor John Edwards, chief reporter John Kay, chief foreign correspondent Nick Parker and a news editor, John Sturgis.
The Metropolitan police's investigation, Operation Elveden, has been extended to look at payments to other public officials. Also arrested on Saturday were a Surrey police officer, a Ministry of Defence employee and a serving officer in the armed forces. They have not been charged with anything, and all eight have been released on bail.
Labour MP Tom Watson, who sits on the media select committee in parliament, told Channel 4 News that management from News International might be called back to give further evidence.
He told Channel 4: "If they've got evidence that shows that in fact there is a reasonable suspicion that police were paid by News International then parliament needs to know about it because it shows that we have potentially been misled and we are in the middle of an inquiry and we need to know what the company now knows."
The police operation into payments to police in the UK could also have repercussions for Murdoch's media empire in the US, triggering a potential investigation under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which covers bribe payments to public officials by US companies abroad.
ReactionIn what would at any other time cause uproar in parliament and among civil liberty and human rights campaigners, [Sun] journalists are being treated like members of an organised crime gang.Trevor Kavanagh, The Sun
The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh described the Metropolian police operation as a "witch-hunt", which posed a serious threat to press freedom in the UK and was taking police resources away from key areas such as counter-terrorism.
"The Sun is not a 'swamp' that needs draining," he wrote. "Yet in what would at any other time cause uproar in parliament and among civil liberty and human rights campaigners, its journalists are being treated like members of an organised crime gang.
"It is important that we do not jump to conclusions. Nobody has been charged with any offence, still less tried or convicted. Yet all are now on open-ended police bail, their lives disrupted and their careers on hold and potentially ruined."
He added: "Under the draconian terms of police bail, many journalists are barred from speaking to each other. They are treated like threats to national security. And there is no end in sight to their ordeal.
"Their alleged crimes? To act as journalists have acted on all newspapers through the ages, unearthing stories that shape our lives, often obstructed by those who prefer to operate behind closed doors."
Kavanagh concluded: "There is a parliamentary inquiry and of course the free-ranging Leveson Inquiry into newspaper practices. The process, costing tens of millions of pounds, threatens to roll on for at least another year and probably two.
"Before it is too late, should we not be asking where all this is likely to lead? Will we have a better press? Or a press that has been bullied by politicians into delivering what they, not the readers, think fit?"
The National Union of Journalists has also described the dawn raids as a "witch-hunt".
The union said in a release: "Newspaper staff are being sacrificed by News International management in order to take pressure off the company."
General secretary Michelle Stanistreet added: "Journalists are reeling after seeing five more of their colleagues thrown to the wolves this morning. There is a real sense of a witch-hunt being carried out right now. Journalists at the title are furious at what they see as a monumental betrayal on the part of News International.
"The closure of the News of the World was a cynical act of damage limitation. The unprecedented decision to allow the Metropolitan Police to camp out at Wapping, and the sacrificing of journalists by the management's standards committee is an extension of this strategy. The reputation of these journalists - and let’s remember they have not been convicted of anything - will inevitably be damaged.
"Once again Murdoch is trying to pin the blame on individual journalists, hoping that a few scalps will salvage his corporate reputation."
The Telegraph said in a leader column today that while claims of hacking and paying public officials for information had to be investigated, it believed the Metropolitan police was being "too heavy-handed".More officers are being sent to arrest a single journalist for an action that may or may not be a crime than ever turn up to investigate a murder or a burglary.The Telegraph
The paper said the force appeared to be "tipping the balance too far the other way" after initially being accused of not taking the allegations seriously enough.
It said: "There are some countries where dawn raids by the police on the homes of journalists and the arrest of two dozen newspaper reporters and executives would be seen as a serious abuse of state power."
The article went on: "By some accounts there are now close to 200 officers working on three separate inquiries linked to the phone hacking affair. More officers are being sent to arrest a single journalist for an action that may or may not be a crime than ever turn up to investigate a murder or a burglary.
"This risks creating a culture of trepidation and excessive caution among newspapers that is not healthy in a democratic society but suits those who would like to neutralise the press.
"These inquiries should be drawn to a conclusion as speedily as possible. Open-ended investigations of alleged media misconduct would be intolerable in a free and democratic society."
The Guardian said in an editorial that the current procedure to uncover unethical practices in newspapers was necessary "to secure long-term freedom" and that "a better press should emerge at the end of it".It is uncomfortable for some of those under scrutiny. But the present processes are infinitely preferable to the previous years of denials, evasions, lies and cover-upsThe Guardian
It wrote: "There is currently a calm, rigorous and reasonably open debate and investigation into the press – what needs protecting, what needs rooting out and how best to regulate it all. That's not an attack on any form of journalism.
"Yes, it is uncomfortable for some of those under scrutiny. But the present processes are infinitely preferable to the previous years of denials, evasions, lies and cover-ups."
The Independent said in its leader: "The danger for News International's remaining UK media stable is growing by the day. Operation Elveden [into corrupt payments] could turn out to be far more toxic for the future of the company even than Operation Weeting, which is the inquiry into phone-hacking allegations."
Kingston University journalism lecturer Brian Cathcart, a founder of the Hacked Off campaign, said: "The picture is not as bleak as some fear, and News International and the Metropolitan Police are only doing what they have to do in a society ruled by law."
"Corrupting officials matters, too," he said. "If local government officials take bribes to fix planning applications for builders, or if defence officials take bribes when awarding arms contracts, we expect prosecutions of both those to pay and those who receive. More than that, we expect the press to expose such wrongdoing, and journalists tend to take pride in the work. Corruption creates injustice and is anti-democratic.
"There are no grounds for Murdoch to close the Sun, and if he were to do so it would be another short-sighted, cowardly and capricious act like the closure of the News of the World. He has to take responsibility, show leadership and steer his paper (which is by any measure a national institution) through the crisis.
"The bathwater of unethical and illegal practices in journalism needs to be drained, and the Leveson process exists to do that. There is no reason to suppose that the baby of free expression will be washed away in the process."
Free daily newsletter
- Daphne Caruana Galizia's son opens up about 'My Mother's Murder' podcast
- World Press Freedom Day: 10 articles that map challenges and bring hope
- South American journalists use social media to publish uncensored versions of their investigative stories
- Journalists call for social media platforms to clamp down on politically targeted abuse
- Slovakia’s first investigative journalism centre honours legacy of murdered reporter