Rupert Murdoch, who began his media career when he took over his father’s business, has long been partial to his stable of newspapers and is said to have particular affection for The News of the World, a constant irritant to the British establishment whose foibles — especially sexual ones — it has delighted in exposing. But newspapers are a dwindling asset in an increasingly digital world, and James Murdoch is said not to share his father’s attachment to print.
According to Hoovers, a company that tracks business information, the revenues from The News of the World amount to $985.7 million a year, roughly a ninth the size of BSkyB’s $8.9 billion in revenues. And, analysts say, advertisers’ rush from the newspaper, as well as calls of a boycott by readers on Twitter and on Facebook, would probably have done irreparable damage to an already tarnished brand.
The Murdoch family’s decision to close the disgraced mass circulation tabloid at the center of a deepening scandal has shifted Britain’s media and political landscape, with an arrest seeming imminent on Friday for the paper’s once politically influential former editor.
The historic announcement of the closure followed several days of allegations that investigators working for the newspaper had hacked into the mobile phones of military families, the victims of the 7/7 attacks and murder victims, including the teenager Milly Dowler.
The 168-year-old tabloid has been under the microscope after it was revealed that they’d hired a private investigator who then hacked into the voicemail of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler and deleted messages to make way for new, incoming voicemails. This was not only creepily invasive, but the move also gave Milly’s family and friends hope that she was still alive.
And while this wasn’t the first time News of the World’s phone-hacking tactics had been revealed; among others, members of the royal family had their phones hacked and actress Sienna Miller has successfully sued the tabloid for hacking into her cellphone.
The particularly despicable nature of the Milly Dowler case enraged just about everyone, from the media to the police. According to Murdoch, two major criminal investigations are now focused on News of the World.
The decision Thursday by Rupert Murdoch’s media conglomerate, the News Corporation, to close The News of the World seemed to be a calculated move to help protect Mr. Murdoch’s proposed $12 billion takeover of the pay-television company British Sky Broadcasting. But it hardly put an end to the uproar, or to Mr. Murdoch’s connection to it.
“They are sacrificing News of the World in order to get the BSkyB deal through,” said George Brock, the head of the journalism department at City University in London. “It’s, in a way, symbolic of the demise of newspapers in print.”
James Murdoch last night said that the paper had lost the trust of its readers after the allegations. He told staff: “The good things the News of the World does have been sullied by behaviour that was wrong. Indeed, if recent allegations are true, it was inhuman and has no place in our company.”
The company’s investigation into the claims had been inadequate, he said, and its insistence that hacking was confined to one rogue reporter was wrong. “The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself. 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. Having consulted senior colleagues, I have decided that we must take further decisive action with respect to the paper. This Sunday will be the last issue of the News of the World.”
Mr Murdoch also conceded that he and other executives had made serious mistakes in their handling of the crisis. “The paper made statements to Parliament without being in the full possession of the facts. This was wrong,” he said.
“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.” In a television interview, however, he refused to apologise, simply repeating that the scandal was “regrettable”.
A spokeswoman for News International said she could not comment on the possibility that The Sun would move to a seven-day operation. “There is no comment beyond the statement today, which does not mention any future plans,” she said.