News International, a branch of the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp., has set up a dedicated line for journalists and other staff of the media conglomerate to report "illegal activity". According to The Independent, the hotline is available "24 hours a day, 365 days a year" to employees, who are, according to Eugenie C. Gavenchak, the company's chief ethics and compliance officer, under obligation to turn in any and all colleagues who they suspect are bribing public officials or engaging in other unlawful acts.
The move is seen as a response to reports that News Corp. employees were bribing police officers from 2003 to 2007 as stated in a series of emails now in the hands of Scotland Yard. The policy states that under British bribery laws, charitable donations and "excessive hospitality" can be construed as illegal, particularly where public servants are involved.
"Gifts and hospitality," it says, "that may be perfectly acceptable among private parties can be completely forbidden when the other party is a government official."
The company says that it will provide legal support and protection from reprisals for employees who turn in their coworkers, even if the reports turn out to be false. "If you make an honest complaint in good faith, even if you are mistaken as to what you are complaining about, the company will protect you from retaliation," the policy says, as outlined in a six-page document that circulated through the company yesterday.
News International has hired the law firm Linklaters to question departmental heads at the newspaper The Sun over past conduct and to audit emails and other internal communications. The company was quick to state, however, that this was not an indication of wrongdoing at any other News Corp. outlets.
The new policy comes just as a British pension fund that controls over $155 billion in assets called on Murdoch's son James to step down as chief operating officer of News International. James Murdoch is being called to testify before Parliament a second time after the veracity of his earlier testimony was called into question.
News Corp. has been embroiled in scandal since reports of phone-hacking and police bribery emerged earlier this year.
(With prior reporting by Stephen C. Webster.)