Red-top tabloid’s reporters react with fury over new expenses policy on naming contacts
“You have to declare whether the person you have entertained is a public official… You have to name the person you have entertained”
– Steve Kennedy, news editor, The Sun, writing in an internal e-mail
Reporters on The Sun have reacted with fury after receiving an edict from management to identify their confidential sources.
An e-mail to all Sun reporters sent last week by the news editor of the troubled tabloid, Steve Kennedy – and leaked to Exaro – instructed them to name any source who is a “public official” in their expenses claims.
The move has alarmed Sun staff because News Corporation, the title’s parent company, has disclosed the identities of a series of confidential sources to the police for their investigation, under ‘Operation Elveden’, into bribery by journalists at its newspaper group in the UK. Some of the confidential sources were not public officials, and some received no payment.
The Sun’s new expenses policy is in line with recommendations of a “global compliance review” conducted by News Corporation. The recommendations also apply to the group’s other newspapers – including The Sun on Sunday, The Times and The Sunday Times.
David Dinsmore, The Sun’s editor, told the Society of Editors conference on Monday that his journalists “have gone back to knocking on doors” and “the more traditional methods of journalism” because of the tougher regulatory environment.
He said that the Bribery Act had made the biggest impact. “You are now really restricted who you can make a payment to,” he said. Kennedy’s e-mail on expenses says: “You have to declare whether the person you have entertained is a public official.”
“You have to name the person you have entertained.”
Kennedy says that reporters must seek approval from the deputy managing editor, Richard Barun, before submitting expenses claims if they wanted to keep the identity of any source confidential. Otherwise, he adds, managers would “automatically reject” the expenses claims.
One inside source at The Sun told Exaro that reporters were astonished that managers expect them to identify confidential contacts given the company’s track-record of revealing the identity of such sources. The insider described it as a “complete joke”.
A spokesman for News UK told Exaro: “No News UK employee is obliged to name a contact on expenses claims where confidentiality is required.”
The anger among Sun staff about the “betrayal” of confidential sources was revealed in secretly recorded meetings with senior figures at News Corporation, as exposed by Exaro.
First, Sun staff who had been arrested by ‘Operation Elveden’ on suspicion of paying public officials for information vented their fury at Tom Mockridge, then chief executive of News International, a subsidiary of News Corporation that has since been rebranded as News UK.
One Sun journalist described the handing over – by News Corporation’s management and standards committee (MSC) – to police of material that identified confidential sources as “one of the greatest acts of treachery in journalistic history”.
Mockridge replied: “You ask me personally, I’d agree with you.”
A letter to Murdoch from the wife of one Sun executive was read out at the meeting, and complained about how the MSC “was happily handing the Met Police all The Sun’s sources and contacts.”
One journalist told Murdoch: “Last year, a friend and good contact of mine was arrested. He sent me some stuff, totally in the public interest, no money paid for. He was arrested under data protection for unauthorised disclosure of information.”
“He feels very aggrieved towards the company that he gave me this material in good faith, and through no fault of my own, the golden trust, if you like, of journalistic confidentiality has been breached.”
He continued: “How do we ask sources of information to trust us in future when this has happened?”
Murdoch, in what Sun staff regarded as a lame response, said: “We’ve got to correct that in some way, for the future. But you’ve got to protect sources.”
Kennedy’s message to Sun reporters sought to clarify a detailed e-mail from the newspaper’s deputy managing editor, Richard Barun, to all staff on the red-top tabloid about claiming expenses.
Exaro today publishes the Kennedy and Barun e-mails in full.