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News Corp team accused of risking journalist sources

By Mark Hosenball

LONDON (Reuters) - A team of executives and lawyers set up by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp to clean up journalism practices at his London newspapers has been accused of putting at risk confidential sources in its dealings with British police investigators.

Roy Greenslade, a former British editor who writes a blog for The Guardian, said a source inside News International, the company which publishes Murdoch's U.K. newspapers, told him the company's Management and Standards Committee (MSC) had turned over an email containing a raw news tip to police without first deleting information identifying the informant.

Another source inside News International confirmed concern was growing within the company that the MSC, a group of high-level executives which is overseeing News International dealings with British police, was "over-cooperating" with authorities. The source said News International journalists were concerned that the company was turning over too much information to official investigators.

A spokesman for the MSC said: "The MSC is absolutely conscious of the need to protect journalistic sources. That is the business we are in...The MSC reviews material to ensure that confidential sources are at all time protected."

News Corp., Murdoch's main U.S. company, set up the MSC last year in the wake of public and political uproar over allegations that News International journalists had systematically used voice mail hacking - illegal under British law - and other questionable reporting tactics.

The MSC, which is supposed to operate independently of News International's three remaining British newspapers, is News Corp's principal liaison with London's Metropolitan Police Service, also known as Scotland Yard, whose detectives are conducting three parallel investigations - covering phone hacking, computer hacking and bribery of police officers - into alleged questionable practices at U.K. newspapers.

Greenslade made available to Reuters an email he had received from a source inside News International. In the message the source, whose identity Greenslade would not disclose, complained that the MSC "appears to have shoveled out private information to the police and others during its investigations into (News International)."

The message goes on to allege that "at least one email" outlining allegations related to official corruption "containing the informant's name, email address, phone number and a brief resume of the story it concerned was passed to the police with no thought for the person's anonymity."

Greenslade's informant also said that he understood that "in some of the other cases outstanding the company had simply handed over documents to the authorities containing details of sources with little or no thought to their contents.

"As you'll no doubt be aware, there's a great deal of disquiet inside Wapping about the way the MSC, and its legal hitmen Linklater, are trampling through the company," the message concluded.

The message disclosed by Greenslade is likely to heighten concerns inside News International's headquarters in London's Wapping district about the company's interactions with police and about the future of Murdoch's London print properties.

Anxieties among News International journalists grew after Scotland Yard officers in late January arrested four current and former senior journalists from The Sun, Murdoch's surviving tabloid and political flagship in Britain.

The arrests are believed to have been sparked by evidence turned over to police by the MSC. No charges have yet been filed against those arrested.

Inside News International, some staffers say they feel besieged by their owners. Said a company source: "Inside News International, News Corp is seen as the enemy now. They have demonstrated no sense of loyalty to their own staff. They have failed to exercise due diligence... And their response now is to dump on their own employees. It's a disgrace."

When it set up the MSC, News Corp said the group would root out the causes of the wrongdoing, cooperate with criminal and civil investigations, and establish new standards of behavior that would ensure no such scandal could recur at Murdoch's remaining British titles: the Sun tabloid, the Times of London broadsheet and its sister, the Sunday Times.

The MSC operates out of an unimposing set of offices in a corner of News International's Wapping campus. In an unusual arrangement, 15 or 20 police investigators are embedded with the company's own inquiry team.

(Reporting By Mark Hosenball)

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