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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North Yorkshire has approved the UK’s first fracking tests in five years. What does this mean?

Is fracking the answer to the UK's energy future? Or a serious risk to the environment?

Shale gas operation has been approved in North Yorkshire, the first since a ban introduced after two minor earthquakes in 2011 were shown to be caused by fracking in the area. On Tuesday night, after two days of heated debate, North Yorkshire councillors finally granted an application to frack in the North York Moors National Park.

The vote by the Tory-dominated council was passed by seven votes to four, and sets an important precedent for the scores of other applications still awaiting decision across the country. It also gives a much-needed boost to David Cameron’s 2014 promise to “go all out for shale”. But with regional authorities pitted against local communities, and national government in dispute with global NGOs, what is the wider verdict on the industry?

What is fracking?

Fracking, or “hydraulic fracturing”, is the extraction of shale gas from deep underground. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped into the earth at such high pressure that it literally fractures the rocks and releases the gas trapped inside.

Opponents claim that the side effects include earthquakes, polluted ground water, and noise and traffic pollution. The image the industry would least like you to associate with the process is this clip of a man setting fire to a running tap, from the 2010 US documentary Gasland

Advocates dispute the above criticisms, and instead argue that shale gas extraction will create jobs, help the UK transition to a carbon-neutral world, reduce reliance on imports and boost tax revenues.

So do these claims stands up? Let’s take each in turn...

Will it create jobs? Yes, but mostly in the short-term.

Industry experts imply that job creation in the UK could reflect that seen in the US, while the medium-sized production company Cuadrilla claims that shale gas production would create 1,700 jobs in Lancashire alone.

But claims about employment may be exaggerated. A US study overseen by Penn State University showed that only one in seven of the jobs projected in an industry forecast actually materialised. In the UK, a Friends of the Earth report contends that the majority of jobs to be created by fracking in Lancashire would only be short-term – with under 200 surviving the initial construction burst.

Environmentalists, in contrast, point to evidence that green energy creates more jobs than similar-sized fossil fuel investments.  And it’s not just climate campaigners who don’t buy the employment promise. Trade union members also have their doubts. Ian Gallagher, Secretary of Blackburn and District Trade Unions Council, told Friends of the Earth that: “Investment in the areas identified by the Million Climate Jobs Campaign [...] is a far more certain way of addressing both climate change and economic growth than drilling for shale gas.”

Will it deliver cleaner energy? Not as completely as renewables would.

America’s “shale revolution” has been credited with reversing the country’s reliance on dirty coal and helping them lead the world in carbon-emissions reduction. Thanks to the relatively low carbon dioxide content of natural gas (emitting half the amount of coal to generate the same amount of electricity), fracking helped the US reduce its annual emissions of carbon dioxide by 556 million metric tons between 2007 and 2014. Banning it, advocates argue, would “immediately increase the use of coal”.

Yet a new report from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (previously known for its opposition to wind farm applications), has laid out a number of ways that the UK government can meet its target of 80 per cent emissions reduction by 2050 without necessarily introducing fracking and without harming the natural world. Renewable, home-produced, energy, they argue, could in theory cover the UK’s energy needs three times over. They’ve even included some handy maps:


Map of UK land available for renewable technologies. Source: RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision.

Will it deliver secure energy? Yes, up to a point.

For energy to be “sustainable” it also has to be secure; it has to be available on demand and not threatened by international upheaval. Gas-fired “peaking” plants can be used to even-out input into the electricity grid when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind is not so blowy. The government thus claims that natural gas is an essential part of the UK’s future “energy mix”, which, if produced domestically through fracking, will also free us from reliance on imports tarnished by volatile Russian politics.

But, time is running out. Recent analysis by Carbon Brief suggests that we only have five years left of current CO2 emission levels before we blow the carbon budget and risk breaching the climate’s crucial 1.5°C tipping point. Whichever energy choices we make now need to starting brining down the carbon over-spend immediately.

Will it help stablise the wider economy? Yes, but not forever.

With so many “Yes, buts...” in the above list, you might wonder why the government is still pressing so hard for fracking’s expansion? Part of the answer may lie in their vested interest in supporting the wider industry.

Tax revenues from UK oil and gas generate a large portion of the government’s income. In 2013-14, the revenue from license fees, petroleum revenue tax, corporation tax and the supplementary charge accounted for nearly £5bn of UK exchequer receipts. The Treasury cannot afford to lose these, as evidenced in the last budget when George Osborne further subsidied North Sea oil operations through increased tax breaks.

The more that the Conservatives support the industry, the more they can tax it. In 2012 DECC said it wanted to “guarantee... every last economic drop of oil and gas is produced for the benefit of the UK”. This sentiment was repeated yesterday by energy minister Andrea Leadsom, when she welcomed the North Yorkshire decision and described fracking as a “fantastic opportunity”.

Dependence on finite domestic fuel reserves, however, is not a long-term economic solution. Not least because they will either run out or force us to exceed international emissions treaties: “Pensions already have enough stranded assets as they are,” says Danielle Pafford from 350.org.

Is it worth it? Most European countries have decided it’s not.

There is currently no commercial shale-gas drilling in Europe. Sustained protests against the industry in Romania, combined with poor exploration results, have already caused energy giant Chevron to pull out of the country. Total has also abandonned explorations in Denmark, Poland is being referred to the European Court of Justice for failing to adequately assess fracking’s impact, and, in Germany, brewers have launched special bottle-caps with the slogan “Nein! Zu Fracking” to warn against the threat to their water supply.

Back in the UK, the government's latest survey of public attitudes to fracking found that 44 per cent neither supported nor opposed the practice, but also that opinion is gradually shifting out of favour. If the government doesn't come up with arguments that hold water soon, it seems likely that the UK's fracking future could still be blasted apart.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.