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July 5, 2013updated 08 Jul 2013 6:29pm

Murdoch tape sheds new light on notorious Sun ‘draining the swamp’ briefing by News Corp source

By Dominic Ponsford

New light has been shed on the briefing from a News Corp source earlier this year which likened the arrest of Sun journalists to “draining the swamp”.

An unnamed source made the comment to journalists following the arrests in January 2012 of Sun executives Chris Pharo, Graham Dudman, Mike Sullivan and Fergus Shanahan in a series of dawn raids on their homes. Sullivan has since been cleared while the other three remain on police bail and have yet to be told whether they will be charged in connection with allegations about payments to public officials.

More than 20 Sun journalists have been arrested so far by police on the Operation Elveden bribes investigation as a result of information handed over by News Corp’s Management and Standards Committee.

The transcript and audio recording of a meeting between News Corp chief executive Rupert Murdoch and around 20 arrested Sun journalists held in March was published this week by the investigative journalsim website Exaro and refers to the "draining the swamp" briefing.

When it was put to Murdoch that the company briefed against Sun journalists via the PR firm Powerscourt, Murdoch said that it was a lawyer who said "drain the swamp", adding that Powerscourt were briefed.

During the meeting Sun agony aunt Deidre Sanders read out a letter from the wife of a Sun staffer detailing the pain her husband’s arrest had caused.

In the letter she said: “There appears to be no end in sight, and while the master of this drama has been sent to America to do some fancy new job, he’s left behind a huge mess. A man who under oath at Leveson said, it’s a fundamental right of all journalists to protect their sources, was happily handing the Met Police all the Sun’s sources and contacts, along with payment details. Priceless.

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“He even sanctioned Powerscourt to brief the press against us, using the phrase: ‘Drain the swamp.’”

"Only last week one of the journalists was told he was going to be charged. His daughters took days off work…"

Murdoch interjects: “That was a lawyer who said, ‘Drain the swamp.’”

Deidre Sanders: “It’s Powerscourt, the PR company.”

Murdoch: “They were briefed, yes.”

A source inside News UK told Press Gazette today that Sun journalists viewed the “draining the swamp” briefing as a “disgrace” and “absolutely disgusting”.

The belief among Sun journalists is that the line emanated from the Management and Standards Committee.

The source said: “It is an Americanism and was clearly a line that was aimed at the American market. Likening The Sun to a swamp was really hurtful to journalists at the time.

“The MSC was reporting directly to New York and the fact that it was briefing against News International staff is beyond belief.”

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

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