The News of the World, the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid at the center of the phone-hacking scandal that has rocked the United Kingdom, will be shut down following the publication of this Sunday’s edition, News Corporation said today.
The weekly tabloid is accused of hacking into the mobile phones of crime victims, celebrities and politicians. On Thursday, the Met Police said it was seeking to contact 4,000 possible targets named in seized documents. The UK’s biggest selling paper has been in circulation for 168 years. The News of the World, which sells about 2.8 million copies a week, is famed for its celebrity scoops and sex scandals, earning it the nickname, the News of the Screws.
In a statement to News of the World employees, James Murdoch (son of Rupert Murdoch) admitted fault and attempted to explain why News Corporation was cutting the paper loose.
The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. 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.
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.
He went on to say:
This was not the only fault.
The paper made statements to Parliament without being in the full possession of the facts. This was wrong.
The Company paid out-of-court settlements approved by me. 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.
The extraordinary decision to sacrifice News of the World seems to have been made in the hopes that it will quell rising public anger in the United Kingdom against Murdoch and his media empire. Of course, nothing is going to stop the Murdochs from turning around and directing additional resources into their other properties. The Sun, described as the News of the World’s “stablemate”, is now expected to begin publishing on Sundays. Some Murdoch critics are already calling the decision to close NotW “cynical”. And Hacked Off, a group that has been watchdogging News Corporation, says there still needs to be a full investigation.
The announcement by News International that this Sunday’s News of the World will be the last does not alter the need for a full public inquiry into phone hacking and related matters.
Indeed, James Murdoch’s statement raises further questions about the conduct of senior figures at the company. We feel that the closure of a 168-year-old title, with the consequent loss of jobs, is a destructive act which actually underlines the need to get to the truth. Hacked Off will continue to press for a judge-led public inquiry, with full powers to establish:
- The extent of the use of illegal information-gathering methods by the press, directly and through intermediaries;
- The conduct of the Metropolitan Police Service in investigating these matters, and its relations with the press;
- The communication between press and politicians in relation to these matters;
- The conduct of the Press Complaints Commission and of the Information Commissioner, and of other relevant parties such as mobile telephone companies;
- The lessons to be learned from these events and actions to be taken to ensure they are not repeated.
Labour’s Tom Watson, one of the more outspoken Murdoch critics in Parliament, is suggesting that there is evidence still to be made public which could implicate more of News Corporation’s properties in the scandal. If so, that helps explain why the Murdochs made an overnight decision to sacrifice News of the World. They’re obviously trying to get ready to weather whatever fallout is coming down the pike. They seem to have realized they cannot escape from this.
Roger Ailes’ Fox Noise Channel deserves the same fate as the News of the World. Actually, it’s probably more deserving, because its hosts and employees continue to masquerade as a news organization when they are really just the unofficial propaganda arm of the Republican National Committee. Ailes’ operation has deliberately and repeatedly spread misinformation in the hopes of damaging popular support for Democratic officeholders and weakening electoral prospects for Democratic candidates. As far as we know, they’ve never hacked into people’s voicemail boxes, but they certainly have done many awful things.
POSTSCRIPT: So we know that many News of the World employees appear to be on the verge of losing their jobs. But no News Corporation executives are stepping down or resigning over this.
Rebekah Brooks, a former NotW editor, is keeping her job, despite loud calls for her resignation in the United Kingdom. And Media Matters notes that another former NotW editor, Les Hinton, has faced no scrutiny at all. He’s now in charge of running the Wall Street Journal here in the U.S. MM’s Eric Boehlert observes:
[P]rior to taking over Murdoch’s American publishing jewel, Hinton ran the mogul’s British newspapers, including News of the World. And Hinton ran the newspapers at a time when the tabloid was hacking mobile phones at an astonishing rate.
That in and of itself is a problem, given the week’s extraordinary events.
But perhaps even more troubling is the fact that Hinton oversaw News Corp.’s initial internal investigation into the phone hacking scandal and came away convinced there was no evidence of widespread wrongdoing in the company, and that the hacking had been confined to just one reporter. (The company went to “extraordinary lengths” to uncover any crimes, Hinton boasted at the time.) And that’s the happy line Hinton told to members of Parliament who pressed him in 2009 about the long-simmering controversy.
It sure sounds like Hinton was one of the “wrongdoers” identified by James Murdoch in his statement. Will he be held to account? Or will the Murdochs stand by him as they have stood by Rebekah Brooks?
Another former NotW editor, Andy Coulson (who was hired by David Cameron to help manage his P.R.) is reportedly going to be arrested today, The Guardian is reporting. That’s bad news for Cameron’s government, which now looks irresponsible for having brought Coulson aboard and defended him from critics.