Britain's News of the World to shut after scandal

7th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch dramatically ordered the closure of the News of the World tabloid Thursday as a spiralling scandal over illegal phone hacking threatened to taint the rest of his business empire.

The axing of the 168-year-old tabloid, which will print its last edition on Sunday, comes after it faced claims that it hacked the phones of a murdered girl, dead soldiers' families, celebrities, politicians and royals.

"Having consulted senior colleagues, I have decided that we must take further decisive action with respect to the paper," said Murdoch's son James, chairman of News International, the British newspaper wing of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

"This Sunday will be the last issue of the News of the World," he added.

The final edition would be free of advertising and any proceeds from the paper would go "to causes and charities that wish to expose their good works to our millions of readers," he said in a statement.

Prime Minister David Cameron -- who had himself faced pressure for his ties to Murdoch's empire -- said the closure of the paper should not distract from an ongoing police investigation into the hacking.

"What matters is that all wrongdoing is exposed and those responsible for these appalling acts are brought to justice," Cameron's Downing Street office said in a statement.

"As the Prime Minister has made clear, he is committed to establishing rigorous public inquiries to make sure this never happens in our country again."

Cameron's former communications director Andy Coulson was editor of the tabloid at the time of much of the hacking.

James Murdoch admitted that the paper, known for its racy diet of sex and scandal but also for its undercover investigations, had lied to parliament and to the public in its earlier statements on the long-running scandal.

He said that if allegations that a private investigator working for the tabloid hacked the voicemail of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl who was later found murdered, were true, they were "inhuman".

"The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself," he added. "Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad and this was not fully understood or adequately pursued."

James Murdoch said the conviction in 2007 for phone hacking of the paper's royal correspondent Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire had failed to cure the problem.

The closure of the paper sparked immediate speculation that Rupert Murdoch was offering it as a sacrificial victim to save his bid for control of pay-TV giant BSkyB, which is the subject of a government decision.

There has also have been reports in recent weeks that Murdoch was planning to replace the News of the World in any case with a Sunday version of The Sun, his daily tabloid, which is Britain's biggest selling newspaper.

A News International spokeswoman would not comment when asked by AFP whether a "Sunday Sun" was planned.

The spokeswoman said the News of the World employed 200 staff, adding: "They will be able to apply for other jobs within the company."

The death blow for the News of the World came on Thursday when veterans' charity the Royal British Legion dropped its campaign partnership with the paper over claims in the Daily Telegraph that an investigator hired by the tabloid may have accessed the voicemails of relatives of dead soldiers.

Supermarket giant Sainsbury's, mobile phone operator O2, energy supplier Npower and high street stores Dixons, Boots and Specsavers had joined a growing list of companies to pull advertising from the paper.

Meanwhile Scotland Yard said up to 4,000 people may have had their voicemails accessed by the News of the World and added that it was probing claims that the paper had paid policemen for information.

Cameron on Wednesday promised an inquiry into the phone hacking scandal, including into allegations that police failed to properly investigate the allegations when they were first made several years ago.

But opposition leader Ed Miliband on Thursday urged the prime minister to distance himself from two former editors of the paper during the period covered by the scandal.

Cameron has dined on several occasions with Rebekah Brooks, now chief executive of News International and a former editor of the paper.

Coulson, who succeeded Brooks as editor, quit as Cameron's media chief in January over the claims after being questioned by police.

Murdoch notably abandoned his support for the Labour party and backed Cameron's Conservatives ahead of a general election last year.

© 2011 AFP

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