Saturday 24 February 2018

End of the 'World' as Murdoch pulls plug on paper

News Corp chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch with wife Wendi in the US yesterday
News Corp chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch with wife Wendi in the US yesterday

Ian Burrell and Oliver Wright

TYCOON Rupert Murdoch has announced the closure of Britain's biggest-selling newspaper, the 'News of the World', in a breathtaking response to the phone-hacking controversy engulfing his media empire.

As allegations multiplied that its journalists hacked the voicemails of thousands of people, from child murder victims to the families of war dead, the tabloid haemorrhaged advertising, alienated millions of readers and posed a growing threat to Murdoch's hopes of buying broadcaster BSkyB.

Yet no one, least of all the 168-year-old paper's 200 staff, was prepared for the drama of a single sentence that will go down as one of the most startling turns in the 80-year-old Australian-born press baron's long and controversial career.

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

He added: "The 'News of the World' is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself."

Journalists at the newspaper raged that they had been betrayed by former editor Rebekah Brooks, now the News International chief executive, who faces calls for her resignation, following revelations that the newspaper under her editorship hacked the phone of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

"Murdoch has sacrificed a newspaper to save one woman," one member of the newsroom said.

But some analysts said Murdoch would still face pressure to remove Ms Brooks, a friend of Prime Minister David Cameron. Her editorship of the 'News of the World' a decade ago is at the heart of some of the gravest accusations.

The future of 22 jobs at the 'Irish News of the World' was also in doubt after the decision to close its parent paper.

Staff at the Irish edition of the UK paper first heard the news at the same time as their colleagues in London.

The Irish edition employs 22 editorial staff as well as columnists including money expert Karl Dieter, hurling legend DJ Carey and former Irish soccer player Kevin Moran.

In other developments in the escalating hacking saga:

•Andy Coulson, David Cameron's former director of communications at Downing Street and a former editor of the newspaper, was preparing to be questioned under caution over what he knew about phone hacking under his editorship.

•James Murdoch denied perverting the course of justice by authorising payments to hacking victims.

•Earlier in the day, major advertisers continued their exodus from the Sunday newspaper, with Sainsbury's, Asda, O2, Boots, Specsavers, Dixons and Npower joining companies such as Ford in suspending their relationship with the 'News of the World'. The Royal British Legion cut its ties with the paper over allegations of hacking of the families of military casualties in Iraq.

•Scotland Yard admitted that almost 4,000 people may have had their phones hacked by the newspaper's private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, placing further strain on the testimony of senior officers to parliament that there were only a handful of victims.

Ms Brooks visited the newsroom, where she had a terse exchange with the current editor Colin Myler, who will bring out the last edition of the paper this Sunday. The paper, which News International has decided will feature no advertising after a host of big-name clients withdrew their spending, will carry a large apology on its front page.

The title, which has become a British national institution for a mix of salacious gossip and serious investigation -- and that once generated sales of eight million copies a week -- was sacrificed as the News Corp founder sought to stop the negativity that it has attracted over phone hacking, including the arrests of staff.

Referring to the phone-hacking scandal, James Murdoch said in his statement: "Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad and this was not fully understood or adequately pursued. As a result, the 'News of the World' and News International wrongly maintained that these issues were confined to one reporter.

"We now have voluntarily given evidence to the police that I believe will prove that this was untrue and those who acted wrongly will have to face the consequences."

In the 'News of the World' newsroom, journalists saw the story flash up on TV screens while they were still reading their emails from James Murdoch. Animosity was directed towards senior executives, with one member of staff describing Ms Brooks' role in the affair as "morally repugnant".

Irish Independent

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