Murdoch Closes Top British Tabloid Over Phone Hacking Outrage

Thursday, 07 Jul 2011 12:19 PM

By Martin Gould

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Media baron Rupert Murdoch sensationally folded the world’s biggest English-language newspaper on Thursday in the wake of the hacking scandal that has rocked Britain.

Murdoch’s son James, the head of Murdoch’s European empire, told staff at the tabloid News of the World that this Sunday’s edition of the paper, which sells 2.8 million copies a week, will be the last.

The decision comes as Murdoch has come under increasing pressure to fire executives in his worldwide News Corp. who have been caught up in the scandal.

The decision is not expected to have a major effect on Murdoch’s U.S. holdings, which include the Fox TV stations, the New York Post and the 20th Century Fox movie studio.

But it was being seen as a defensive move by the 80-year-old business titan as British regulators are considering whether he should be allowed to take full control of that country’s BSkyB cable network. He owns around 60 percent.

Journalists at the News of the World have been accused for years of hacking into mobile phones of celebrities, politicians and members of the British royal family. The paper’s royal correspondent Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, a private detective the paper used regularly, were jailed in 2006.

But the scandal got far more heated in recent days when it was revealed that Mulcaire accessed the cellphone of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl who went missing in 2002, and deleted messages, giving her family false hope that she might still be alive, and potentially impeding police. Dowler’s body was found six months after she went missing.

New accusations that Mulcaire also accessed the phones of two other missing teenagers, victims of the 7/7 London bomb outrages of 2005 and even the families of service personnel killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, have increased public anger.

It also is alleged that the paper, which is read by an estimated 7.2 million people a week, bribed several members of London’s Metropolitan Police to the tune of $160,000.

Several major businesses announced over the past few days that they would pull advertising from the 168-year-old paper, which has long been a national institution in the United Kingdom.

In his announcement to staff, James Murdoch said the behavior of journalists at the paper was “inhuman.” He said News International, the British arm of News Group had “failed to get to the bottom of repeated wrongdoing that occurred without conscience or legitimate purpose.”

“The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account,” James Murdoch said. “But it failed when it came to itself.

“In 2006, the police focused their investigations on two men. Both went to jail. But the News of the World and News International failed to get to the bottom of repeated wrongdoing that occurred without conscience or legitimate purpose,” he added.

“Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad and this was not fully understood or adequately pursued.”

James Murdoch said he approved out-of-court settlements to people whose phones had been hacked. "I now know that I did not have a complete picture when I did so. This was wrong and is a matter of serious regret."

He said any revenue from sales of the last paper, which is bound to become a collectors item, would go to “good causes.”

British MP Tom Watson, who has led the attacks against the paper, said, “Rupert Murdoch did not close the News of the World. It is the revulsion of families up and down the land as to what they got up to. It was going to lose all its readers and it had no advertisers left.

“They had no choice,” Watson added.

Rupert Murdoch’s decision to kill off the paper will open the way for his group to turn his six-day-a-week paper The Sun into a seven-day-a-week operation.

It also will reduce pressure on News International’s chief executive Rebekah Brooks, who was editor of the News of the World at the time of Dowler's disappearance. Rupert Murdoch has said all along that he has no intention of firing Brooks, a close friend of British Prime Minister, David Cameron.






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