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Tabloid to Close as British Hacking Scandal Widens

  • Henry Ridgwell

A woman speaks on her mobile phone outside the News International headquarters building that houses the top-selling newspaper The News of the World, which is closing, in east London, July 6, 2011

A woman speaks on her mobile phone outside the News International headquarters building that houses the top-selling newspaper The News of the World, which is closing, in east London, July 6, 2011

The News of the World phone-hacking scandal in Britain has claimed its latest victim - the newspaper itself. News International, the parent company of the newspaper owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, has announced that this Sunday’s edition will be the last. Its closure is unlikely to mark the end of a scandal that penetrates deep into British society.

Outside News International headquarters in London, protesters gathered Friday to voice their feelings about the company’s owner Murdoch and The News of the World.

Staff say journalists inside are even angrier. The decision to close The News of the World puts around 200 jobs on the line.

David Wooding, political editor at The News of the World, said, "Very said, very sad, it's going to be emotional for us all this weekend."

Ivor Gaber, professor of journalism at London’s City University, said The News of the World brand had been poisoned.

“Interesting the man [Murdoch] has no sentiment. People said, 'How could he close a newspaper, 160 years old?' Easy. Slightly more interesting is, this was his toehold, this was the first paper he bought in this country. You’d think he might have some sentimental attachment to the key that unlocked the riches of the British media," said Gaber. "No. He’s a businessman. He takes business decisions... He is a colossus. He doesn't control the media in every country but it's very difficult to travel to most parts of this world without encountering a Rupert Murdoch media product."

The phone-hacking allegations are nothing new. Two News of the World journalists were convicted in 2009. But the newspaper’s claim that they were isolated cases appears to be falling apart.

New evidence allegedly shows that the phone of a murdered British schoolgirl, Millie Dowler, was hacked by News of the World journalists while she was declared missing in 2002; and that some answer-phone messages were deleted, giving her family false hope that she was still alive.

Police say it appears that relatives of those killed in the 2005 London bombing victims, and the parents of dead soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan also are on the list of possible victims.

British Prime Minister David Cameron ordered two public inquiries into the allegations - but is himself facing close scrutiny for hiring a former editor of The News of the World, Andy Coulson, as his former Director of Communications.

Coulson was arrested Friday over fresh allegations he authorized cash payments of around $160,000 to police in return for stories.

“I decided to give him a second chance and no one has ever raised serious concerns about how he did his job for me," said Cameron. "But the second chance didn't work out and he had to resign all over again. The decision to hire him was mine, and mine alone, and I take full responsibility for it.”

The allegations go even deeper.

In 2006 the London Metropolitan Police investigated the hacking claims. Critics say the fact that the investigation did not uncover their true extent shows either corruption or incompetence.

The steady drip of allegations has piled the pressure on News International - and exposed the power of the Murdoch media empire within British society.

“It went to ridiculous extremes allowing Murdoch to dictate government policy," said Gaber. "We have several examples of that. And if that has been nullified, then that is one good fallout from this affair… The big question that the Metropolitan Police now face is did they whitewash the Murdoch inquiry because they were in hock to Murdoch - or worse - still frightened of Murdoch, and if that’s proven, then that is a very worrying development.”

After 160 years, the final copy of The News of the World will roll off the presses in the early hours of Sunday morning.

That is unlikely to be the end of the scandal.