Murdoch stuns critics, shuts down scandal-hit paper

UK tabloid 'News of the World' shuts down after 168 years following growing voicemail hacking scandal that shocked staff, public.

By REUTERS
July 7, 2011 20:08
3 minute read.
'News of the World'

'News of the World' sign 311 (R). (photo credit: Olivia Harris / Reuters)

 
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LONDON - In a breathtaking response to a scandal engulfing his media empire, Rupert Murdoch moved on Thursday to close down the News of the World, Britain's biggest selling Sunday newspaper.

As allegations mounted this week that its journalists had hacked the voicemails of thousands of people, from child murder victims to the families of Britain's war dead, the tabloid had hemorrhaged advertising and alienated millions of readers.

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Yet no one, least of all the 168-year-old paper's staff, was prepared for the drama of a single sentence that will surely go down as one of the most startling turns in the 80-year-old Australian-born press baron's long and controversial career.

"News International today announces that this Sunday, 10 July 2011, will be the last issue of the News of the World," read the preamble to a statement from Murdoch's son James, who heads the British newspaper arm of News Corp .

Hailing a fine muck-raking tradition at the paper, which his father bought in 1969, James Murdoch told its staff that the latest explosion of a long-running scandal over phone hacking by journalists had made the future of the title untenable:

"The good things the News of the World does ... have been sullied by behavior that was wrong. Indeed, if recent allegations are true, it was inhuman and has no place in our Company. The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself.



"This Sunday will be the last issue of the News of the World ... In addition, I have decided that all of the News of the World's revenue this weekend will go to good causes.

"We will run no commercial advertisements this weekend."

Steven Barnett, professor of communications at Westminster University, said he was "gobsmacked":

"Talk about a nuclear option," he told Reuters.

"It will certainly take some of the heat off immediate allegations about journalistic behavior and phone hacking."

Tom Watson, a member of parliament from the opposition Labour party who had campaigned for a reckoning from the paper over the phone hacking scandal, said: "This is a victory for decent people up and down the land.

"I say good riddance to the News of the World."

There was no immediate response from members of UK Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative-led government, which has found itself embarrassed by the avalanche of allegations this week after it gave its blessing in principle to News Corp's takeover bid for broadcaster BSkyB

It was unclear whether the company would produce a replacement title for the lucrative Sunday market, in which, despite difficult times for newspaper circulations, the News of the World is still selling 2.6 million copies a week.

One option, analysts said, might be for its daily sister paper the Sun to extend its coverage to a seventh day.

News of the World journalists were stunned. Anger may be directed at top News International executive and Murdoch confidante Rebekah Brooks, who edited the paper a decade ago during the period of some of the gravest new allegations.

"We didn't expect it at all. We had no indication. The last week has been tough...none of us have done anything wrong. We thought we were going to weather the storm," said one News of the World employee who asked not to be named.

The scandal had deepened with claims News of the World hacked the phones of relatives of British soldiers killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The military veterans' association broke off a joint lobbying campaign with the paper and said it might join major brands in pulling its advertising.

The British Legion said it could not campaign with the News of the World on behalf of the families of soldiers "while it stands accused of preying on these same families in the lowest depths of their misery".

Signaling how far the racy, flag-waving title has alienated a core readership already horrified by suggestions its reporters accessed the voicemails not only of celebrities and politicians, but also of missing children and crime victims, an online boycott petition had garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures.

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