Murdoch admits knowledge of illegal payments, News Corp says he was showing 'empathy'

News Corp has stood behind chairman Rupert Murdoch after he appeared to suggest that he knew reporters at his newspapers had made payments to public officials.

The revelation emerged in secret recordings obtained by investigative journalism website Exaro.

At a March meeting with Sun journalists caught up in the police investigations into bribing public officials, Murdoch said that such payments were “the  culture of Fleet Street”.

A News Corp spokesman said that Murdoch was merely showing “understandable empathy” with those affected and “will assume they are innocent until and unless proven guilty”.

Murdoch said that he would stand by journalists even if they were convicted.

“I will do everything in my power to give you total support, even if you’re convicted and get six months or whatever.”

Responding to a question from a Sun reporter about how long the practice had been in place, Murdoch said: “We’re talking about news tips from cops: that’s been going on a hundred years, absolutely. You didn’t instigate it.”

Earlier he had said the company has been “picked on” by “the left-wing get-even crowd of Gordon Brown”, adding that The Sun and News of the World had not done “anything that wasn’t being done across Fleet Street and wasn’t the culture.”

Last night, Labour MP Tom Watson called on police to quiz Murdoch over the tapes.

News Corp said: “No other company has done as much to identify what went wrong, compensate the victims, and ensure the same mistakes do not happen again. The unprecedented co-operation granted by News Corp was agreed unanimously by senior management and the board, and the MSC continues to co-operate under the supervision of the courts.  Rupert Murdoch has shown understandable empathy with the staff and families affected and will assume they are innocent until and unless proven guilty."

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