Murdoch's Australia arm distances self from scandal

8th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Media magnate Rupert Murdoch's Australian arm Friday distanced itself from the News Of The World phone hacking scandal, warning "unethical and immoral" conduct would not be tolerated.

The head of News Limited, the Sydney-based arm of Murdoch's global empire which has killed off the embattled News Of The World to stem the crisis, expressed "distress and dismay" over the breach of readers' trust in Britain.

"The behaviour that has been uncovered at the News Of The World is an affront to all of us who value the integrity and credibility of good journalism," chief executive John Hartigan said in a statement to staff.

"Phone hacking is the antithesis of everything we stand for. It is a terrible slur on our craft," he said adding that "unethical and immoral behaviour is not tolerated" at News Limited.

The decision by Murdoch to close the 168-year-old News of the World after Sunday's edition recognised that "once the contract of trust between the newspaper and its readers had been breached it was damaged beyond repair," he said.

But similar violations had not been committed by the Australian company that gave birth to the News International global media empire, Hartigan insisted, warning journalists that such breaches were unacceptable.

"I am confident that the practices that have been uncovered in the UK do not exist in Australia, at News or any other respectable media outlet," he said.

Hartigan, one of Murdoch's trusted executives, reminded News journalists at mastheads including "The Australian" broadsheet and "The Daily Telegraph" and "Herald Sun" tabloids of their contract with readers.

"Given the wider reputational impact on all journalists as a result of events in the UK I want to remind everyone that adherence to our ethical code is fundamental to our right to publish, and a fundamental requirement of our work every day," Hartigan said.

"Regrettably, a line has been crossed and it's important at times like this that if we care about the power, value and relevance of responsible journalism then we must express in the strongest terms our distress and dismay at such a breach of faith," he added.

"We have obligations to do the right thing by ourselves, our colleagues, our readers and advertisers and, more broadly, to the communities we serve in an ethical and moral way."

Murdoch killed off News Of The World in a shock move Thursday as the spiralling scandal over claims that it hacked the phones of a murdered girl and the families of dead soldiers threatened to taint the rest of his media empire.

A disgruntled former editor of Melbourne's Herald Sun, Bruce Guthrie, said he was unsurprised at the paper's axing, describing News Corp. culture as "shoot first, ask questions later" with a "distinct lack of process".

"I think the company has given us the greatest journalistic scandal that we've ever known," Guthrie told ABC Radio.

"And I think with this announcement overnight that they've given us the greatest journalistic stunt."

Guthrie successfully sued News Ltd for wrongful dismissal in 2008 and subsequently wrote a tell-all book titled "Man Bites Murdoch" about his time with the company, claiming News demanded loyalty before journalism.

He accused Murdoch of "manag(ing) a bad brand out of existence (to) replace it with another one," noting an Internet domain for the "Sun on Sunday" had been registered three days ago.

"I would like to have money on the Sun, which currently publishes on Monday to Saturday, coming out as the Sun on Sunday, probably Sunday week," said Guthrie, referring to one of Murdoch's British tabloid titles.

News shares listed in Australia lifted 1.33 percent to Aus$16.77 Friday on a broadly firmer market, after slumping 3.61 percent Thursday as the scandal deepened.

© 2011 AFP

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