Murdoch: "Sun on Sunday" on its way

News International employees appear surprised by new NotW announcement.

The name does make one wonder how long Murdoch spent deliberating over the launch of the News of the World's replacement.

Seven months after the title folded following revelations that a hired private investigator had hacked the phone of missing school girl Milly Dowler, Rupert Murdoch today visited the London headquarters of News International and revealed to employees that the Sun on Sunday newspaper would be launching "very soon".

The announcement was made to staff via email (in full below), whilst the News Corp CEO met for crisis talks at the Wapping HQ over the arrest of ten current and former senior staff at the Sun, since November, in connection with claims of corrupt payments to public officials and police.

Of the new publication, a News International journalist told the Guardian's Lisa O'Carroll:

There was a bit of a sharp intake of breath, an 'er, what now?' when the email arrived. The last time we got something like this was an email from James Murdoch closing the News of the World down.

Murdoch addresses "this situation" at the Sun -- "a source of great pain" for him -- by telling employees:

We will obey the law . . . I made a commitment last summer that I would do everything I could to get to the bottom of our problems and make this Company an example to Fleet Street of ethical journalism.

He also announced, in the strongest show of solidarity yet with accused Sun staff, that News Corps would pay their legal expenses, lift all suspensions and welcome back to work those arrested and bailed.

In his NS Media column this week Peter Wilby suggested a future for the media mogul's British titles, noting the association with him, as it stands, is still "toxic" for the brands:

Murdoch closed the NoW with reluctance, but the almost inevitable conclusion of this long-running scandal is that he sells both the Sun and the NoW (the title of which he still owns). Freed of the toxicity of their association with Murdoch, they might be worth around £1bn. The fate of the Times and Sunday Times is anyone's guess. Perhaps, as Michael Wolff, Murdoch's most recent biographer, has suggested, he could endow an independent trust to keep them going. That would at least provide a dignified conclusion to Murdoch's 43-year career as a British newspaper proprietor.

Rupert Murdoch email to News International staff

Dear Colleagues:

I've worked alongside you for 43 years to build The Sun into one of the world's finest papers. It is a part of me and is one of our proudest achievements. The Sun occupies a unique and important position within News Corporation.

I have immense respect for our heritage, your exceptional journalism and, above all, you, the talented women and men who work tirelessly every day to ensure our readers have access to such a trusted news source. I believe this newsroom is full of great journalists and I remain grateful for your superb work and for the stories you uncover to inform and protect the public. None more so than over the last three weeks.

My continuing respect makes this situation a source of great pain for me, as I know it is for each of you.

We will obey the law. Illegal activities simply cannot and will not be tolerated - at any of our publications. Our Board of Directors, our management team and I take these issues very seriously.

Our independently chaired Management & Standards Committee, which operates outside of News International, has been instructed to cooperate with the police. We will turn over every piece of evidence we find -- not just because we are obligated to but because it is the right thing to do.

We are doing everything we can to assist those who were arrested -- all suspensions are hereby lifted until or whether charged and they are welcome to return to work. News Corporation will cover their legal expenses. Everyone is innocent unless proven otherwise.

I made a commitment last summer that I would do everything I could to get to the bottom of our problems and make this Company an example to Fleet Street of ethical journalism. We will continue to ensure that all appropriate steps are taken to protect legitimate journalistic privilege and sources, which I know are essential for all of you to do your jobs. But we cannot protect people who have paid public officials.

I am confident we can live by these commitments and still produce great journalism.

We will build on The Sun's proud heritage by launching The Sun on Sunday very soon. Our duty is to expand one of the world's most widely read newspapers and reach even more people than ever before.

Having a winning paper is the best answer to our critics.

I am even more determined to see The Sun continue to fight for its readers and its beliefs. I am staying with you all, in London, for the next several weeks to give you my unwavering support.

I am confident we will get through this together and emerge stronger.

Thank you,
Rupert Murdoch

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.