Considering the seriousness of the hacking allegations that have been leveled against News Corp. in recent months, it doesn’t come as a huge surprise to learn the News of the World was involved in various other unethical activities over the years.
The fact that the tabloid was paying off rival journalists for scoops isn’t a new claim—it’s something that former editor Piers Morgan has freely admitted in the past—but it's one that had been largely forgotten, at least until a new investigation by the Associated Press revealed what the AP terms "a pattern of payoffs aimed at rival newspaper employees."
The story first broke in 1995, when Sue Harris, an employee of the Sunday People—the U.K.’s smallest tabloid—was fired over allegations that she had sold exclusive scoops to the News of the World for £250 each while Morgan was editor.
Meanwhile, at the Sunday Mirror (which, like the Sunday People, is owned by the Trinity News Group), a reporter named Chris House was being paid £1,000 a month to spy for News of the World. The AP investigation turned up at least three other British tabloid journalists who admitted to being on the News of the World’s payroll. And as late as 1999, the News of the World was threatened with a lawsuit from Trinity Mirror for attempting to bribe the Sunday Mirror’s deputy news editor. (They eventually settled out of court).
What’s different about these allegations is that the News of the World’s former top editor has already admitted to them—in writing, no less. In his 2005 book, The Informers, Morgan detailed how his tabloid paid House to steal a celebrity scandal story that the Sunday Mirror had spent three months working on, and suggested that the practice of hiring informants had begun long before he took over as editor in 1995.
While there won’t be any legal ramifications for Morgan or the News of the World—technically, the payoffs don’t break U.K. bribery laws or the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act—the payments could be used as evidence of a broader pattern if the News of the World is taken to court for bribing police, lawyers told the AP.