New Charges Filed As News Corp. Tries To Move Beyond Hacking Scandal

As News Corp. seeks to move on from the phone hacking scandal that rocked the company last year, two former editors of Rupert Murdoch's now-shuttered News of the World have been charged with bribery.

News Corp.Former tabloid editors Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson have been accused by British prosecutors of conspiring to pay public officials in exchange for information, according to the Associated Press. Those charges stem from the wide-ranging hacking scandal that has brought down company executives, journalists, and politicians and resulted in a British parliamentary panel declaring Murdoch “not a fit person” to run a major media group, and come as News Corp. attempts to shed the scandal and make new acquisitions.

The British criminal investigation began following the revelation that journalists and editors at the British tabloid, The News of the World, had hacked into phones to uncover information in order to report stories. Now, Brooks is being charged with conspiring to pay a Ministry of Defense employee for a series of stories for Murdoch's The Sun tabloid, and Coulson is accused of conspiring to pay officials for access to a royal phone directory. Brooks and Coulson, who have been brought up on other charges associated with the scandal, have repeatedly denied any criminality.

Brooks served as an editor of The News of the World, The Sun, and most recently as the CEO of News International, until she resigned in July 2011. She was arrested two days after her resignation. Coulson was an editor at The News of the World until 2007, when he left to become a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron. He resigned that position in 2011 amid the hacking scandal.

In July 2011, The News of the World shut down.

These latest charges of bribery come on the heels of several indications that News Corp. is attempting to move past the scandal; indeed, The New York Times reported November 19 that the company “is starting to look like its old self again” and is looking to make acquisitions after having “been on its heels for more than a year because of the phone hacking scandal in Britain.”

There have been several reports that News Corp. is eyeing the Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune. Last month current and former staffers at the Times and Tribune told Media Matters that they feared such a Murdoch takeover, with several citing the phone hacking scandal.

Outside the print media, Murdoch is reportedly looking into purchasing more education companies and examining sports media opportunities. On November 20, News Corp. announced an agreement with Yankees Global Enterprises to buy 49 percent stake in the YES Network, a deal valued at about $3 billion that "could aid in the formation of a new nationwide nework to compete with ESPN.

As media analyst Todd Juenger told the The New York Times, “Rupert has his mojo back. The stock is up, investors are happy with the company's recent decisions.”

In October, News Corp. held its annual shareholders meeting in Los Angeles, where Murdoch was expected to be grilled by shareholders demanding he step down as chairman.  Murdoch appeared unfazed, tweeting: “Any shareholders with complaints should take profits and sell!” - and despite the criticism and questions about his control, he emerged from the meeting still at the head of News Corp.  

Earlier this year, News Corp. announced that the company would be split into a publishing and entertainment division, which Murdoch said in a statement would “accelerate News Corporation's businesses to grow to new heights, and enable each company and its divisions to recognize their full potential.” Murdoch would continue to serve as chairman of both companies.

But despite the organizational changes and Murdoch's apparent readiness for new investments, the scandal continues to hang over the media conglomerate. According to the AP:

The scandal shows little sign of winding down. London's police force, chastened by its failure to uncover the scandal earlier, has kept up a steady drumbeat of arrests and American officials are still weighing whether Murdoch's company violated U.S. anti-corruption laws. In Britain, the legal process is still grinding forward. Mark Lewis, a prominent victims' lawyer, recently announced lawsuits against the Daily Mirror newspaper over allegations of phone hacking -- further expanding the circle of tabloid suspects.

The scandal is likely to be a watershed moment for Britain's rambunctious press. A judge-led inquiry into the ethics and practices of the country's media set up in the wake of the scandal is due to report shortly, and its recommendations could lead to sweeping changes in the way that the British media operates.

Under the British bribery act, Brooks and Coulson could face a maximum 10 years in prison.