Britain's bestselling tabloid on Monday launched a blistering attack on the police for arresting five of its journalists over the weekend in an investigation of media corruption and unethical practices undertaken as a result of the country's phone hacking scandal.
Scotland Yard is treating reporters at Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper "like members of an organized crime gang," said Trevor Kavanagh, the paper's associate editor. He lashed out at what he called a police "witch hunt," warned that Britain was falling behind former Soviet bloc countries in terms of press freedom and criticized police raids on journalists' homes during which officers sifted through "intimate possessions, love letters and entirely private documents."
Never mind that one of the Sun's sister publications, the News of the World, was closed down last summer over allegations of illegal hacking of cellphones on an industrial scale. Or that the Sun prides itself on salacious stories peering into the intimate, private love lives — and documents, when it can get them — of movie stars, politicians and athletes.
Kavanagh said the multiple investigations spawned by the hacking scandal had become disproportionate and sucked police resources away from more important matters such as stopping terrorism.
His broadside came as Murdoch, whose media empire has been badly tarnished by the scandal, is expected back in London this week to visit his British holdings. Murdoch has reportedly given his full assurance that the Sun, with its famous photos of topless women, will not suffer the same fate as the News of the World, which was summarily shut down in July at the height of public outrage.
Police arrested the five Sun journalists, some of them senior staff members, as part of an investigation into media and police corruption — namely, the practice of paying officers for information and tips.
At least two dozen journalists from Murdoch-owned titles, mostly from the News of the World, have been arrested in Scotland Yard's corruption and hacking probes. But no one has been formally charged.
"Yet all are now on open-ended police bail, their lives disrupted and their careers on hold and potentially ruined," Kavanagh said, writing in the Sun. He added, "When the police get matters so far out of proportion, we are entitled to ask: Who polices the police?"
He defended payments for information as standard practice for journalists both "here and abroad." (Most mainstream American newspapers forbid such payments.)
Some media watchers say Kavanagh's attack on the police was also an oblique criticism of executives at News International as too willing to sell their employees down the river. News International is the British arm of Murdoch's giant News Corp. and owns the Sun and the Times of London, among other publications.