End of the World: Murdoch axes scandal-hit tabloid

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Media mogul Rupert Murdoch killed off the News of the World in a shock move Thursday as a spiralling scandal over phone hacking at the British tabloid threatened to infect the rest of his empire.

In a fittingly sensational finale, the 168-year-old paper will print its last edition on Sunday after claims that it hacked the phones of a murdered girl and the families of dead soldiers, and that it paid police for stories.

"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 proceeds would go "to causes and charities that wish to expose their good works to our millions of readers", he said in a statement.

One devastated staff member said the announcement went off like a "nuclear bomb" in the offices of Britain's second biggest selling newspaper, whose diet of kiss-and-tell stories sold 2.7 million copies a week.

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

The BBC quoted sources as saying Murdoch would replace it with a Sunday version of The Sun, his daily tabloid, which is Britain's biggest selling newspaper.

Prime Minister David Cameron -- who had himself faced pressure for his ties to Murdoch -- said the closure of the News of the World 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.

He repeated his pledge to hold public inquiries into practices at the News of the World and into an earlier botched police probe into the issue.

Cameron's former media chief Andy Coulson was editor of the tabloid at the time of much of the hacking, while the premier has faced scrutiny for his friendship with Rebekah Brooks, News International's chief executive.

James Murdoch repeated his father's earlier defence of Brooks, saying he was confident she was not aware of hacking during her own stint as editor.

"I am satisfied that Rebekah, her leadership of this business and her standard of ethics and her standard of conduct throughout her career, are very good," Murdoch said in a television interview.

Two hundred staff will lose their jobs at the paper and they have been told they can apply for other jobs within News International.

News of the World associate editor David Wooding described the atmosphere in the newsroom when the closure was announced was as "if a nuclear bomb had gone off".

"Everyone was standing around looking dazed. Everyone kept saying -- how could it get any worse?" he told the BBC.

In his statement, James Murdoch admitted that the paper 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."

He 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.

But 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.

© 2011 AFP

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