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Murdoch's Broken Promises to Staff Need Probing

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It's ironic that this week Rupert Murdoch's Sunday Times included a supplement listing the 100 best companies to work for.

You won't find his company listed, or any other publisher or broadcaster for that matter.

This is perhaps explained because the media is a highly competitive industry which tends to chew on employees before spitting them out.

But the level of happiness, wellbeing and security - or lack of it - felt by Murdoch employees may well have played a key part in the phone hacking scandal.

So why is it an area that never seems to come under scrutiny? Many had hoped that - post News of the World - MPs and the Leveson Inquiry would grapple with what motivates and causes law-breaking at newspapers.

But there has been very little forensic examination of the 'back-end' mechanics of what we read in the newspapers.

The general assumption is that criminality is driven by the competitive need to feed a sensation-hungry readership with celebrity and crime exclusives.

But where is the line drawn, if any, in the newsroom as to the methods of achieving this? Who draws that line? And how many in the organisation are even aware that there is a need for this process?

This is particularly relevant in the case of the News of the World where, at one extreme, management assured employees phone hacking had been dealt with after the unearthing of "one rogue reporter" and, at the other, the Guardian claimed there were thousands of similar phone hacking cases.

You would have thought part of the Leveson inquiry's brief would be to draw an accurate picture of the structure, editorial process, chain of command and levels of secrecy (who knows what) at the NOTW and other newspapers under suspicion.

The way Rupert Murdoch and other proprietors treat their editors and staff is surely key to the issue of alleged criminality in the media.

During my time at Today, the News of the World and the Sun, there was a widely-believed myth that Rupert Murdoch loved and respected newspapers and the journalists who produced them.

His father had ensured he experienced newspapers at the coalface on UK national newspapers before he embarked on his empire-building career.

If the demise of the News of the World had been handled more like the closure of Today, when most journalists were found jobs, I might still partly believe the Murdoch myth. Having said that, the fact he chose to close Today for purely commercial reasons, rather than sell it, spoke volumes.

All the evidence today points to the fact Murdoch doesn't care about his employees or the promises he makes to them.

As he oversaw production of the first Sunday edition of the Sun last week, it emerged that several former News of the World journalists who had been promised work on the paper were told they couldn't be hired after all.

It all seems strange, given Murdoch and other of his executives' commitment to finding jobs for former NOTW staff - especially given that existing Sun staff are overstretched and the organisation is even advertising for graphic artists on Gorkana.

He told MPs at a Culture, Media and Sport select committee hearing shortly after the News of the World closure: "We have in this case made - and I am making this continually - every effort to see that those people are employed in other divisions of the company, if they are not part of the small group. I do not know how big a group it was, but whatever group was involved with criminality."

In fact as few as 20 to 30 of 269 NOTW staff have ended up working at the Sun and other News International companies following the closure of the News of the World.

There are at least five former NOTW staff who were recently hired by the Sun at one level only to be told, after contact between their line manager and managing editor level higher up, that they could not work there after all.

None of these ex-employees are under suspicion of being connected with the NOTW phone hacking scandal.

So is Murdoch branding those he failed to find jobs criminals? The answer, whether he means to or not, is Yes. After all, to find jobs for the non-criminals was part of his commitment to MPs.

Or was his promise to help the staff he sacked as empty and expedient as similar offers from his son, James, and Rebekah Brooks, his former NI chief executive, who was NOTW editor at the time Milly Dowler's phone was hacked.

There are certainly other reasons to doubt Murdoch's public statements to MPs. Many people were surprised to learn of the Sun's launch on Sundays, considering other testimony before the Select Committee.

James Murdoch said it would not be right to launch a Sunday newspaper until the company understood the facts of the phone hacking allegations.

"This is not the time to be worrying about that," he told MPs at the same hearing, seated next to his dad. "The company has to move forward on all of these other actions and get to grips with the facts of these allegations and understand them as fully as we can."

With on-going investigations into the NOTW and recent arrests at the Sun, if anything, the Murdochs are even further from knowing all the facts now than they were at the hearing back in July.

And Murdoch's pre-Sunday launch support for Sun journalists under investigation as "innocent until proven guilty" has not been offered to NOTW journalists who have largely been tarred with the overwhelming brush-off by News International.

Other former NOTW staff who have applied for work on the Sunday edition of the Sun have been told that if they took a redundancy payment after leaving the News of the World, they could not work for the company again because the Inland Revenue prevented it.

This is clearly false. In the past, News International has re-hired many people in new positions, after they were paid off. And there is no law against anyone who has genuinely been made redundant working for the same company again, provided they are not doing the same job.

The truth, it appears, is Murdoch is unwilling to hire innocent jobless NOTW staff, even though he, his family and executives have tainted the careers of these honest journalists by failing to get to grips with wrongdoing at the newspaper.

The abrupt closure of the News of the World is increasingly looking less like a response to the alleged phone hacking and deletions of Milly Dowler's voicemails.

The burial of the brand looks far more connected with an attempt to hide how far up responsibility for any alleged wrongdoing travels.

It also fitted neatly with management desire to introduce seven-day rotas across Sun and News of the World titles and introduce one brand online 24/7, doing away with the separate NOTW online team.

Now the only hope for the truth about the whole affair rests with any trials involving the alleged rogues of the phone hacking scandal.

It may even be proved that there was a cover-up of other illegal activities after former Royal Editor Clive Goodman was jailed and branded the "one rogue reporter" on the paper.

But for now, the vast majority of NOTW journalists who had nothing to do with wrongdoing at the paper, remain unjustly tainted.

And - without a more forensic inquiry into the workings of newspapers - we might not find out what caused the criminality which tainted them.

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