News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch assured the many Sun journalists arrested for bribing public officials that he would stand by them, even if they went to prison.
Investigative journalism website Exaro has obtained an audio recording of a meeting in which Murdoch met Sun journalists in March this year.
So far more than 20 have been arrested on suspicion of bribing public officials and eight have been charged as a result of emails released by News Corp's Management and Standards Committee to police.
In a session lasting around 45 minutes, Exaro reports that Murdoch met more than 20 executives and reporters from The Sun.
On the recording, one Sun staffer is heard saying: “Completely oblivious to the fact that the long-term practice of this company to pay public officials was illegal, my job description meant that as a result of that, it came directly through my particular department.”
“You can understand how we all feel that we are effectively being made scapegoats.”
Murdoch replied: “Yeah. And one of these high-priced lawyers would say it’s our fault, but that situation existed at every newspaper in Fleet Street. Long since forgotten. But absolutely.
“It was the culture of Fleet Street.”
A Sun journalist asked him: “I’m pretty confident that the working practices that I’ve seen here are ones that I’ve inherited, rather than instigated. Would you recognise that all this pre-dates many of our involvement here?”
Murdoch: “We’re talking about payments for news tips from cops: that’s been going on a hundred years, absolutely. You didn’t instigate it.”
He said: “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 said, ‘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 is doing badly at the tables, and he helps himself.”
Murdoch also told the arrested journalists, “just trust me,” when they asked whether they would be given their jobs back – even if they were jailed;he described police as “incompetent” and said the company had not supplied them with any documents “for months”.
At the meeting Sun agony aunt Deidre Sanders read out a letter to Murdoch from the wife of one of the newspaper’s executives. It recounts how the executive and his wife felt “betrayed”, “abandoned” and “isolated”.
Afterwards Murdoch said: “Thank you very much. That’s very moving… I’ll go and shove it down the throat of the company lawyers. That was the most ups-”
He was interrupted by the sound of former Sun managing editor Graham Dudman sobbing.
“It’s a very, very moving letter,” he said.
One journalist asked Murdoch whether staff would be looked after in the event that he wasn't around. He said in that case the decision would be in the hands of either News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson or his son Lachlan. He indicated that they would carry out his wishes that arrested journalists should be supported by the company.
A spokeswoman for News UK told Exaro in a statement: “It is simply false that Mr Murdoch knew that payments were made to police before News Corporation disclosed that to UK authorities. The MSC continues to co-operate with those authorities, under the supervision of the court.”