Phone hacking, and its sister, bribery, took down two more journalists at the Murdoch clan’s British operations over the weekend. Although there have been recent signs of improvement in News Corp’s newspaper operations, especially in Australia in the September quarter, two more convictions recall the grubbiness of the company and the way it sometimes practises journalism.

On Friday night, Australian time, former News of the World news editor Ian Edmondson was sentenced to eight months’ jail for his role in the phone-hacking scandal that eventually shut down the paper in 2011. Edmondson was sentenced after last month admitting to plotting to hack phones of public figures and celebrities, including musician Paul McCartney and actors Jude Law and Sienna Miller. Edmondson is the eighth person to be convicted in relation to the hacking scandal. The most prominent person convicted is former editor Andy Coulson.

But Edmondson wasn’t the only former News of the World journalist before the United Kingdom courts last week. Last Wednesday a former News of the World journalist was found guilty of paying a prison officer for details about the life behind bars of Jon Venables, one of the killers of James Bulger. The journalist, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was convicted of conspiring with the prison officer, Scott Chapman, and his then-wife, Lynn Gaffney, to commit misconduct in public office. A fourth defendant, Daily Star Sunday journalist Tom Savage, was cleared of the same charge by a jury at London’s Old Bailey court, according to reports in the UK media, including The Guardian. The verdicts were delivered last Wednesday but could only be reported on Friday after the judge lifted interim reporting restrictions.

And stand by for more bad publicity for the News Corp’s UK papers when the BBC Panorama program runs its special report tonight in Britain on the so-called “fake sheikh”, veteran News International journalist Mazher Mahmood. His lawyers failed on Friday to win a High Court injunction preventing a documentary from revealing his appearance. The show was held over from last Monday night because of the legal action.

The Panorama report will examine the methods used by Mahmood in numerous so-called “gotcha” stories, in which he claimed celebrities and others had been caught using or dealing in drugs or offering bribes. Mahmood spent most of his career working for the now-defunct News of the World, and then The Sun on Sunday. His methods became news after the drug trial of UK pop star Tulisa Contostavlos collapsed earlier this year when a judge accused Mahmood of lying. Dismissing the Contostavlos case in July, Judge Alistair McCreath said there were strong grounds to believe Mahmood “told [McCreath] lies” and had been “manipulating the evidence”. Mahmood claims to have helped secure more than 90 criminal convictions in a career spanning 30 years. News UK is investigating Mahmood and has suspended him. Of extra interest is whether the legal opinions of numerous News International lawyers are canvassed in the Panorama story, especially the one involving Contostavlos. From the comments of the judge in that trial, the legal beagles for News are potentially exposed. Watch for News to try to cut Mahmood adrift.

And finally, bad news of the kind the Murdochs and News management really understand — falling newspaper sales. On Friday the October newspaper circulations were released showing that The Sun’s sales had slipped to a 43-year low last month with an average 1,978,324 copies sold each day. That’s the lowest they have been since 1971, according to The Guardian. Despite that fall, The Sun remains the UK’s biggest-selling paper, around 320,000 ahead of the Daily Mail and around a million ahead of the faltering Daily Mirror.

But it’s a landmark of sorts — it’s highly unlikely that The Sun will again regain the 2 million-a-day mark. The Sun sold 2.150 million copies a day in October of 2013, and 2.020 million in September on this year. The paper lost more than 197,000 copies a day or around 9% in the year to the end of last month.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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