Sun publisher News International (now known as News UK) is an unscrupulous "copper's nark" suppressing evidence of corruption to save Rebekah Brooks and itself from prosecution, a court heard.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned firm is guilty of a cover-up by shopping junior Sun employees to the police to stave off the threat of corporate charges, it is said.
Nigel Rumfitt QC, defending The Sun's head of news Chris Pharo, launched a scathing attack on the company for sacrificing junior employees at the paper to save more senior figures like Brooks.
And he accused prosecutors of being dictated to by News International, relying on the firm to supply documents as evidence in the case.
"News International is a copper's nark, and just like a copper's nark it has given a mixture of accurate and misleading information about others to the police in order to save its own skin", he said.
"The very informant has controlled the entire investigation.
"The police can't even get access to the documents controlled by News International.
"This prosecution was controlled and instigated by the prime suspect."
Rumfitt said News International had withheld critical evidence of the payment authorisation system, including documents showing Brooks' involvement while editor of The Sun.
He said just one authorisation form signed by Brooks had been produced by the prosecution during the trial at Kingston Crown Court.
"Do you really believe that one document is the only such document in the possession of News International?", asked Rumfitt.
"Do you think Rebekah Brooks only ever signed one of those?
"The evidence of Charlotte Hull (news desk secretary) is Mrs Brooks must have signed hundreds of them – where are they?"
He turned his fire on News International, suggesting the defendants in the dock had been "shopped" in a bid to stave off corporate prosecution.
"It couldn't be there's been another cover-up at News International", he said, wryly.
"The release of misleading information to the police force and the prosecuting authorities so desperate to atone for the earlier bungle, they have made it ten times worse by launching a prosecution without having all the evidence and without the power to get it."
Rumfitt said the issue spans back to 2006, when News of the World reporter Clive Goodman was jailed for phone-hacking Royal aides, but News International wrongly claimed the practice was not widespread.
In 2011, it emerged phone-hacking was widespread at the Sunday paper, sparking a scandal that forced News International to set up the Management and Standards Committee (MSC) to investigate.
But Rumfitt said: "The Management and Standards Commmitte has acted as a front for News International, plainly engaged in a wholesale cover-up for more senior people at the company at the expense of the more junior.
"News International were terrified that the company would itself be prosecuted, and if it was that would mean the US authorities might withdraw licences held by the American parent company, bringing down the whole Murdoch empire with the loss of 46,000 jobs", he told the court.
He said the MSC "was to make it look as if the company was cooperating fully with the police investigation into phone-hacking".
Rumfitt told the court News International thought they could dodge a corporate prosecution by "ingratiating themselves with police", and launched the investigation into payments at The Sun of their own accord.
He accused prosecutor Peter Wright and the CPS of putting Pharo and others in the dock without having the full facts.
"When the prosecution opened the case to you, they hadn't got a clue about the operation of the cash payment system at The Sun from 2006 to 2011, when they had the brass neck to accuse Chris Pharo of being involved in a multitude of criminal conspiracies", he said.
"You were repeatedly told that Chris Pharo authorised payments.
"How could the prosecution have got it so wrong? How could they launch a prosecution so bedevilled by misunderstanding and error?
"This prosecution has been taken for a ride, led up the garden path by a foreign-owned corporation of enormous power, influence and greed.
"That's entirely their own fault.
"They were warned of the dangers of trying to run a police investigation while wholly at the mercy of a multi-national corporation fighting for its life."
Rumfitt added that Pharo and his colleagues had been reassured when Brooks admitted to Parliament that the paper paid police officers.
"His editor Rebekah Brooks even told a committee of Parliament that the paper paid police officers", he said.
"Nothing happened, no one batted an eye lid.
"That policy of paying public officials was approved at a level way above his pay grade.
"Whether he liked it or not, there was nothing he could do about it.
"At all times, he never had the power to authorise cash payments – only the editor could do that."
But he told the court: "News International have shopped him to the police and given the police journalistic information about sensitive sources, which the police would never have been able to obtain lawfully."
The free press in the UK will be a "dead duck" if journalists face prosecution for exposing wrongdoing, the court heard.
Rumfitt said the prosecution of the six Sun journalists is an attack on the freedom of the press, and defended journalists' right to investigate the management of prisons, police forces, and maximum security hospitals like Broadmoor.
"It must be tough being related to a mass murderer or a serial rapist but that goes with the territory", he said.
"There is a genuine public right to know how patients at places like Broadmoor are treated, and if that makes the place more difficult to run then hard luck, live with it.
"The public have a right to know what's going on."
He said stories about the Yorkshire Ripper enjoying a trip to the Lake District, and Broadmoor patients having a Halloween party were in the public interest.
"The Sun's use of colourful language about beasts and monsters is not to everyone's tastes", he said.
"But if stories like this are not reported because those who unearthed it by paying a low-grade orderly cash for information have committed a criminal offence, the free press in this country is a dead duck."
He said the prosecutor's assertion that the free press was not under attack had been undermined by the way the case had been handled.
"The prosecution told us this is not an attack on the freedom of the press must have come as an enormous relief to Chris Pharo, sitting in the dock at Kingston Crown Court facing serious charges arising out of his work as a journalist", he said.
"If this wasn't an attack on the freedom of the press, why was the Crown's opening address peppered with emotive criticism of perfectly normal press behaviour."
He said stories about "tittle tattle" and getting ahead of rivals had been the subject of derision by the prosecution, while on one occasion Pyatt was accused of "paying blood money".
"What's that about if not an attack on the freedom of the press", said Rumfitt.
"This is how a free market economy works and the prosecution simply don't understand what tabloid journalism is about.
"The press in this country is commercial.
"If you don't have celebrity and sports stories, the paper will die and with it the free press as well."
He told the jury: "Journalism certainly has its seedy side, personified by the spectacle of Jamie Pyatt in the witness box lying about everything and anything.
"He is the caricature of the sleazy hack."
But he added: "Many of the people read and enjoy The Sun every day.
"Not all of us are serious minded, interested in politics and current affairs to the exclusion of everything else.
"Not everyone is education to the same level as everyone else, and there is room in this country for the Sun and the Mirror as well as the Telegraph and the Guardian."
He told the court Pharo had personally approved £17,200 in cash payments to sources over the course of the indictment period, according to the evidence which boils down to an average of £55.13 a week.
Pharo, alongside five colleagues – managing editor Graham Dudman, 51, ex-deputy news editor Ben O'Driscoll, 38, picture editor John Edwards, 50, and reporters Jamie Pyatt, 51, and John Troup, 49 – is accused of paying public officials for stories.