SATURDAY’S desperate meltdown on the Sun was a crisis waiting to happen.
And as long as News International’s ill-fated Management and Standards Committee continues to exist, it will happen again and again. Until the balance tips and it is either forced to close or is sold off.
Either way, many in the industry now believe there won’t be a Murdoch owned Sun for much longer.
And with the collective losses of the Times and the Sunday Times running at £45 million to the year ending June 2010 and £87.7 million the year before, the likely outcome is that all three titles would be sold off as a more financially attractive package.
The formation of the committee was misguided from the start and is forcing News International to implode.
If you put any newspaper in the world under such microscopic scrutiny, you will find evidence of wrong-doing somewhere along the line or in its past which will be sufficient to embarrass it. Especially if it is then handed to its competitors and the police.
The committee certainly didn’t expect to virtually decapitate the management structure at the Sun.
But it should have done and was naïve to think it was going to be involved in a simple face washing exercise in public before announcing all was well.
A captain of industry once said to me that he believed most small to medium sized businesses go through a brief period of trading whilst insolvent at some time in their history.
And if the police and a team of accountants put each company’s financial history under the microscope, most financial directors would be locked up.
So it is with newspapers and the temptation to push the boundaries of what is acceptable in the desire to gather information in a highly competitive market.
In the high pressure environment of News International, men were tempted to go one step too far. Not many, but in sufficient numbers and levels of seniority to destabilise the company if it became public.
Again it was suicidal naivety for the Management and Standards Committee to ignore this as a possible outcome.
Add to their naivety a huge dose of over-zealous, careless analysis of the evidence and you get a Matt Nixson situation.
Fired by the committee for committing an ‘illegal’ act, a committee member then began a campaign to beg the police to arrest him. To no avail. The police weren’t remotely interested.
No law had been broken but Matt’s career has. Disgraceful.
I notice that the four men at the Sun who were arrested were questioned on suspicion of “aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office”.
This doesn’t sound like paying police officers to me which is covered under the 1906 Prevention of Corruption Act.
The Management and Standards Committee has been trawling through reporters’ expenses going back years.
One reporter was asked why he had been buying drinks for police officers.
The answer is to get a good crime story out of them, of course
Now if that’s “aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office”, then we might as well all pack up and retrain as astronauts.
The outcome of the police investigation into the Sun four will be critical not only for those journalists but also the careers and credibility of those on the committee.
When I was accused of hacking Gordon Taylor’s phone in 2009, I handed News of the World executives the evidence that it wasn’t me but others.
If they’d acted on that instead of sitting on it and clinging to the ‘rogue reporter’ defence, there would have been no continuous media outrage, no political pressure, no second police investigation, no arrests, no sackings, no News of the World closure, no Management and Standards Committee, no Leveson and the Sun would not be looking over the precipice.
News International’s chief fault has always been its inability to self-criticise, preferring to self-aggrandise.
That fault lay at the heart of the events of 2009. And it lies there still.
It will take until the moment they are switching off the lights at Wapping or handing the keys to someone else before they realise they have lost the trust of the readers and now the staff and are embarked on a Kamikaze mission which will end not only in their own destruction but that of thousands of loyal and talented staff who have done no wrong and deserve better from their employer.