News of the World: one scandal too far

7th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

The News of the World newspaper lived on its sensational scoops and scandals, but it could not survive the phone-hacking scandal which sunk the 168-year-old title.

The unabashedly sensationalist tabloid was Britain's biggest-selling Sunday paper, with a circulation of 2.7 million. It claimed to be read by more people than any other English language newspaper.

It was known for years of hard-hitting investigations, exposing wrongdoing, campaigning, and reams of celebrity tittle-tattle.

It had a long history of breaking big stories -- but often found itself in the spotlight for other reasons.

The paper is to close after Sunday's final edition, engulfed in the phone-hacking scandal that has snowballed way beyond the original two convictions.

Dubbed "News of the Screws" for the sex exposes often found within its pages, the paper was first published in 1843 and has been part of media baron Rupert Murdoch's stable since 1969.

The populist approach was there from the early days, starting off with a three pence cover price, aimed at capturing a mass market.

By 1950, it achieved a colossal circulation of almost 8.5 million. The paper became a tabloid in 1984.

Many of its biggest scoops in recent years were secured by the notorious "fake sheikh" -- its star undercover reporter Mazher Mahmood, who often dressed up as a wealthy Arab to coax indiscretions and admissions out of celebrities.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, Queen Elizabeth II's daughter-in-law, was caught out in 2001, allegedly exploiting her royal connections to benefit her public relations firm and making disparaging remarks about then prime minister Tony Blair.

The tabloid claims that stories by Mahmood -- the son of immigrants from Pakistan who is reputed to be the only journalist in Britain with his own personal bodyguard -- have led to more than 100 criminal convictions.

But in July 2006, three suspects were cleared in an anti-terrorism court case brought after Mahmood allegedly unearthed evidence of a plot to buy radioactive mercury.

Earlier that year, in "fake sheikh" garb, Mahmood lured the then manager of England's national football team Sven-Goran Eriksson into making revelations about his players, including then captain David Beckham.

The News of the World also revealed that Prince Harry, third in line to the throne, had been taking drugs in 2002, the same year it reported an alleged plot to kidnap Beckham's pop star wife Victoria.

The subsequent trial collapsed, however, as it emerged that the newspaper's main informant had been paid and was therefore not considered to be a reliable witness.

The same year, the newspaper said Beckham had been having an extra-marital affair with his then assistant Rebecca Loos -- a claim which was not contested in court.

In March 2008, then world motorsport chief Max Mosley was the subject of a front page story entitled "F1 boss has sick Nazi orgy with 5 hookers." But Mosley won a privacy case against the paper.

The world of cricket was rocked last year during Pakistan's tour of England, when match-fixing allegations were made against some of Pakistan's players.

The practice of hacking into people's voicemails emerged in 2006 when royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were arrested, with both jailed the following year. Editor Andy Coulson resigned, saying he took "ultimate responsibility".

More than 600 messages on the mobile phones of aides to the royal family, including from Prince William, had been hacked into.

The scandal continued to haunt the paper however, with ongoing claims about phone hacking eventually leading to the police setting up a new investigation.

Revelations escalated and the public and political condemnation reached a crescendo this week, with allegations that the voicemails of a child murder victim, families of the Iraq war dead and relatives of the London bombings victims had also been hacked.

The scandal overtook the title.

Sunday's edition will be the last, James Murdoch, News International's chairman, announced Thursday. The paper employs 200 staff.

"The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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