RUPERT MURDOCH was reported to be ready to fly to Britain last night as his global media empire was plunged into a new crisis with the arrest in London of five senior journalists and executives from the tabloid newspaper The Sun on corruption charges.
The arrests spread alarm and anger through the newsroom at The Sun, Britain's best-selling newspaper, amid fears that Mr Murdoch could close the paper as he has closed the News of the World in a desperate attempt to contain the phone hacking scandal that continues to plague the media empire and has cost tens of millions of dollars in compensation payments.
The dramatic escalation of the investigation into the hacking and payments to police could have significant negative impacts for Mr Murdoch and plans by News International in relation to its holdings in Britain and to moves by US investigators probing potential aspects of activities by News employees in the US.
Mr Murdoch moved immediately to tell staff the paper would not close and a statement from the company later assured staff of support as the company faced its "greatest challenge''.
But the anger was almost palpable among journalists because the arrests were reportedly the result of millions of emails that News International had given to the police investigation into the phone hacking scandal and payments to police. Paying police for information is illegal in Britain.
Journalists and the National Union of Journalists interpreted the arrests - 10 from The Sun so far - as tantamount to being thrown to the wolves and an attempt by the company to distance itself from practices which are said to have been widespread across all British media, not only at News, for decades.
The five arrested and released on bail were deputy editor Geoff Webster, picture editor John Edwards, chief reporter John Kay, chief foreign correspondent Nick Parker and deputy news editor John Sturgis.
Others arrested in relation to the scandal included a police officer, a Ministry of Defence employee and a member of the armed forces. They were held but later bailed on suspicion of corruption, misconduct in a public office and conspiracy.
The immediate reaction from The Sun's editor, Dominic Mohan, was a pledge to continue editing the paper with his "brilliant staff", while News International chief executive, Tom Mockridge, an Australian, said he was saddened that another five colleagues had been arrested.
He said some of those detained had ''been instrumental in breaking important stories about public bodies, for example the scandal of our under-resourced troops in Iraq … The company has provided legal support to those interviewed by police.
''I understand the pressure many of you are under and have the greatest admiration for everyone's continued professionalism. The Sun has a proud history of delivering ground-breaking journalism. You should know that I have had a personal assurance today from Rupert Murdoch about his total commitment to continue to own and publish The Sun newspaper," Mr Mockridge said.
But the impact of the latest arrests and the fact that the scandal involving News has now extended to the highly sensitive areas of the Ministry of Defence and the military are expected to be significant and perhaps inflame opposition to Mr Murdoch and News in Britain and elsewhere.
Detectives searched the Sun newsroom at Wapping, in east London, and the homes of the journalists under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906. The widening of the investigation was prompted by detectives trawling through 300 million email messages from the archives of The Sun and News of the World.
They were given access to them by News International's management and standards committee, set up last year to handle the response to the investigation into phone-hacking allegations at the now defunct tabloid.
with Telegraph, London