Murdoch tapes: he knew about ‘culture’. Global media titan Rupert Murdoch had probably never heard of investigative news site Exaro before. Today the site has published an explosive transcript after obtaining a recording of a meeting Murdoch held with staff at his London tabloid The Sun in March. While Murdoch has always maintained — including in testimony to the parliamentary inquiry into bribery and phone hacking at the paper — he never knew about the dodgy journalistic practices, he seemed to tell staff a different story.

Among the two dozen staff in the boardroom at News International HQ in London on March 6 this year, The Sun‘s former managing editor Graham Dudman raised disgruntlement over the various probe and police treatment. Murdoch responded in part:

“… And I’m sure we’ve made mistakes. But it’s hard for you to see it this way. I’m just as annoyed as you are at the police, and you’re directing it at me instead, but never mind. I mean, it is absolutely — and we will be returning to this as a paper, if we can get through a bit more of this [Murdoch slaps table] — what they’re doing, what they did to you, and how they treated people at the BBC, saying ‘a couple of you come in for a cup of tea at four in the afternoon’, you guys got thrown out of bed by gangs of cops at six in the morning, and I’m just as annoyed as you are …

“And if you want to accuse me of a certain amount of panic, there’s some truth in that. But it was very, very — I don’t know — it’s hard for you to remember it, it was such — but it was — I was under personal siege — not that that mattered — but it was — the whole place was — all the press were screaming and yelling, and we might have gone too far in protecting ourselves. And you were the victims of it. It’s not enough for me to say you’ve got my sympathy. But you do have my total support.”

He went on to assure staff under investigation of ongoing legal and medical support and their futures at the company. And then this:

“… I don’t know of anybody, or anything, that did anything that wasn’t being done across Fleet Street and wasn’t the culture. And we’re being picked on. I think that it was the old right-wing establishment, [Lord] Puttnam, or worse, the left-wing get-even crowd of Gordon Brown. There was a sort of — we got caught with dirty hands, I guess, with the News of the World, and everybody piled in. It was a get-even time for things that were done with The Sun over the last 40 years, 38 years, whatever it is …”

Were done? A journalist suggests it pre-dates them, to which Murdoch then replies:

“We’re talking about payments for news tips from cops; that’s been going on a hundred years, absolutely. You didn’t instigate it …

“I don’t know, you know in your own heart, I’m not going to ask you now, but I would have thought 100% — but at least 90% — of payments were made at the instigation of cops saying, ‘I’ve got a good story here, it’s worth 500 quid’, or something. And you would say, ‘no, it’s not’, or, ‘we’ll check it out’, or whatever. And they’d say, ‘well, we’ll ring the Mirror …’ [whispers] It was the culture of Fleet Street.

“I remember when I first bought the News of the World, the first day I went to the office … and there was a big wall-safe … and I said: ‘What’s that for?’ And they say: ‘We keep some cash in there.’ And I said: ‘What for?’ They said: ‘Well, sometimes the editor needs some on a Saturday night for powerful friends. And sometimes the chairman [the late Sir William Carr] is doing badly at the tables [laughter] and he helps himself …”

So Murdoch knew plenty, as many have suspected. But will it count for anything? Labour MP Tom Watson has called on Murdoch to be questioned by police over the contents of the leaked tape; a company statement restates the company has done everything in its power to uncover wrongdoing and Murdoch was simply showing “understandable empathy” with staff. Interestingly, on the question of succession, Murdoch is recorded as telling colleagues:

“The decision would be — well, it will either be with my son, Lachlan, or with Robert Thomson [Murdoch’s chief executive at News Corp]. And you don’t have any worries about either of them.”

Even if the leader changes, the message will stay the same. — Jason Whittaker

When the music stops Ten stands still. Now that Nine Entertainment has loaded up on debt to help bail out Bruce Gordon and his WIN group to the tune of up to $340 million by buying control of STW9 in Perth, there’s only one media dance partnership of note left: the potential merger/takeover involving the Ten Network and Southern Cross Austereo.

Southern Cross is the Ten affiliate in most regional areas and the two groups have extended the deal by a month to complete negotiations on a longer-term agreement (perhaps two years rather than three). That extension came before Nine’s move to grab control of Perth and help WIN by injecting more cash into the group (which will effectively be repaid by the higher affiliation fee of 39%, from 33%, from WIN to Nine. Southern Cross — valued at more than $1 billion compared to Ten at $711 million — will take the lead.

Southern Cross’s largest shareholder is Macquarie Bank with 27% — it would want cash for its stake. The bank has lost heavily on its stake in Southern Cross, as has CEO Nicholas Moore. The share register of Ten is dominated by Gordon (who is a seller given his financial strains and the losses on his stake of around 14%), Gina Rinehart, Lachlan Murdoch and James Packer. None of that trio would want to be diluted in any takeover of Southern Cross by Ten issuing more shares, and unless the tooth fairy appears no one will lend Ten the cash to make a bid from it more attractive to Southern Cross shareholders.

Equally the Ten trio would not fancy Macquarie and the Southern Cross board pitching up a takeover, dressed up as a merger, which would reduce their stake in the merged company and which would in turn diminish their involvement in the bigger company. An additional problem is Murdoch’s control of radio group DMG Australia — he can’t be a part of a merged company because Southern Cross Austereo already controls two national radio networks. — Glenn Dyer

Correcting the record on the fly. A case study yesterday on how to handle errors in the rollercoaster world of online journalism came from Australian gallery scribe Ben Packham, who tweeted at 2.26pm that diplomat and former Kevin Rudd staffer Philip Green had been appointed his new chief of staff and whacked a yarn up on The Oz‘s website. Problem being, the PMO was quickly in touch to say Green was out of the running.

At 3.10pm Packham tweeted again: “Well, this is embarrassing! PMO says Phil Green is NOT Rudd’s new COS. We had it from high-up PMO source it was Green but apparently not…” The Oz story was pulled offline. Later that night gallery journos got a full briefing — the CoS gig was going to Treasury hardman Jim Murphy. And former Oz scribe Matthew Franklin was joining Rudd’s office as a press secretary. You’d think the former News comrades could have teamed up in the service of truth. — Matthew Knott

Name that show! That great innovator of morning TV Adam Boland — the one who had the genius idea of dumbing down content to push up ratings at Channel Seven’s Sunrise — is now at Ten and outsourcing production of the network’s new 9pm informercial platform. With scruffy Daily Telegraph scribe Joe Hildebrand set to join Australian of the Year Ita Buttrose on a couch, viewers are being asked to come up with a name in an online competition to win a new television. As one Crikey reporter quipped today: “They should call it: At Least It’s Not Paul Henry.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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