LONDON (AP) — The Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday that it had seen emails and documents showing that The Wall Street Journal funneled money through third parties to a company that was buying up copies of the Journal and boosting its European circulation.
The Guardian did not make the emails and documents public but, if its description is accurate, the Journal was effectively buying its own papers and inflating its circulation figures — something that could allow it to charge advertisers extra.
The Guardian claimed that the Journal engaged in what it described as a “bizarre scheme” aimed at funelling money to the Netherlands-based Executive Learning Partnership, which at the time was buying thousands of copies of the Journal every day at deeply discounted prices.
Such discounted sales are not unusual in the newspaper business and the Guardian and the Journal both say that the purchases by ELP were approved by the Britain’s circulation watchdog.
However, the Guardian alleges that the Journal was indirectly sponsoring the purchase of its own papers by urging third parties to pay ELP. The Guardian also said the Journal promised to publish three stories based on ELP research. The Guardian said two such stories were then published without any warning that the articles were the product of a business deal.
The Wall Street Journal Europe’s publisher, Andrew Langhoff, resigned Tuesday over its links to the Dutch company. Publisher Dow Jones said that its links to the ELP “could give the impression that news coverage can be influenced by commercial relationships.”
A joint statement released Wednesday by the Journal and Dow Jones acknowledged that the deals were “of poor appearance” and said it had since cut ties to the third parties involved. But it insisted that the deals were still valid even if it said that it was “uncomfortable with the appearance of these programs and the manner in which they were arranged.”
It provided no details, however, about what the relationship with the Dutch company or other third parties involved. ELP did not immediately return a call or an email seeking comment.
Dow Jones spokeswoman Ashley Huston did not immediately return calls seeking further comment.
Murdoch’s News Corp. bought the Journal in a highly publicized takeover in 2007. In the U.K., News Corp. is under political and police pressure over allegations of systematic wrongdoing at its now-defunct News of the World tabloid.
In the United States, authorities are investigating whether the company broke anti-corruption rules by paying out bribes to British police and other public officials.
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