August 18, 2022

Murdoch to Close Tabloid Amid Fury Over Hacking

The scandal had been taking a toll on the News Corporation, with stock prices falling, some advertisers fleeing The News of the World, and new doubts emerging about Mr. Murdoch’s proposed $12 billion takeover of the pay-television company British Sky Broadcasting, in which he already owns a large stake. Many legislators have now criticized the deal and any government decision appears unlikely to be made before the end of the summer.

The Times of London, itself a News Corporation newspaper, said five journalists and the newspaper executives suspected of involvement in the scandal were expected to be arrested within days.

The move to close The News of the World was also seen by media analysts as a potentially shrewd decision to jettison a newspaper in order to preserve the more lucrative broadcasting deal and possibly expand its other tabloid, The Sun, to publish seven days a week.

The announcement came from Mr. Murdoch’s son and likely heir apparent, James, in a broad and apologetic statement delivered so suddenly that The News of the World was still advertising a subscription deal on its Web site.

“Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad and this was not fully understood or adequately pursued,” he said, admitting that the paper and its British parent, News International, had “failed to get to the bottom of repeated wrongdoing that occurred without conscience or legitimate purpose,” despite a police investigation in 2006 that sent two men to jail.

As a result, he said, the paper and company “wrongly maintained that these issues were confined to one reporter. We have now voluntarily given evidence to the police that I believe will prove that this was untrue and those who acted wrongly will have to face the consequences.” The announcement raised immediate speculation that The Sun, another News International paper, might begin publishing on Sundays. Company executives had discussed earlier this year whether to merge some of the two papers’ operations as a way to save money, and the domain name was registered on Tuesday.

When asked about the possibility, a News International spokeswoman said, “There is no comment beyond the statement today which does not mention any future plans.” Other Murdoch holdings in Britain include The Sunday Times of London and SkyNews.

In an on-camera interview with the BBC, James Murdoch said the paper was being shut down because “we fundamentally breached a trust with our readers.” He defended News International’s embattled chief, Rebekah Brooks, saying he was convinced that her leadership was “the right thing” for the company and “absolutely crucial right now.”

On Wednesday, Rupert Murdoch made his first direct public comment on the phone hacking scandal, fiercely defending Ms. Brooks from accusations over serious phone hacking cases while she was editor at The News of the World and saying the company would continue cooperating with the police “under Rebekah Brooks’s leadership.”

The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Ed Miliband, told the BBC that the closing of the paper was a defensive move on the part of News International, “a concession to members of the public up and down the country who have been appalled by what has happened.” But he said that only Ms. Brooks’s resignation would show that the organization was taking responsibility for its actions.

“Some people are losing their jobs, but one person who is keeping her job is the person who was editor of The News of the World at the time of the Milly Dowler episode,” Mr. Miliband said, referring to the case of the 13-year-old murder victim. On Monday, lawyers for her family said the paper hacked her phone after she was abducted in 2002, deleting some messages to make room for more in a move that confused police investigators and created false hope that she might still be alive. Her killer remained at large for years, killing two more young women before being captured, and was convicted in all three deaths; the verdict in Ms. Dowler’s case came only last month.

Ms. Brooks was the paper’s editor during the Dowler case, and was promoted from there to The Sun before taking over News International.

On Wednesday, a member of Parliament also raised allegations that nine years ago, The News of the World had participated in efforts to disrupt a murder investigation, as the members collectively turned on Mr. Murdoch, and the tabloid culture he represents, using a debate about the widening phone hacking scandal to denounce reporting tactics by newspapers once seen as too politically influential to challenge.

Sarah Lyall reported from London, and Brian Stelter from New York. Reporting was contributed by Alan Cowell from Paris, Eric Pfanner and Ravi Somaiya from London, and Jeremy W. Peters from New York.

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