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Bestselling UK tabloid closes over phone hacking scandal

Published time: July 07, 2011 16:26
Edited time: July 08, 2011 12:50

News International, a British newspaper publisher owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, announced the closure of the News of the World tabloid, which has been mired in a widening telephone hacking scandal.

The UK's bestselling Sunday paper is to close after its final, ad-free issue this coming weekend. Proceeds from the final issue will go to charity, James Murdoch, who heads the newspaper’s European operations, announced Thursday. 

The scandal, which has cost the 168-year-old newspaper prestige and advertisers, has featured sensational allegations that the newspaper bribed police and hacked the voicemails of a murdered teenager as well as the relatives of terrorism victims and fallen soldiers.

On Wednesday a group of protesters, including film star Hugh Grant, gathered outside the British Parliament. Grant revealed that he had to testify to police investigating the hacking allegations.

"We need to have an inquiry that uncovers all the practices and indeed the culture, not just at the News of the World, but all the tabloid journalism in this country, because what we are going to find out in the weeks and months ahead is that it wasn't just the News of the World," he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

The scandal, which has unfolded over the past several years, exploded in recent days after The Guardian newspaper reported that the tabloid allegedly hacked the voice mail of Milly Dowler, who was abducted and murdered in 2002 at the age of 13. 

Subsequent media reports alleged that the tabloid had also been involved in listening to the voice mail of relatives of those killed in the London bombings in July 2005, as well as relatives of British soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

All in all, UK police are examining roughly 4,000 names of people who may have been targeted by the paper, the Associated Press reported.

The tabloid, which had two of its employees sentenced in 2006 for listening to phone conversations of members of the royal family, has reportedly agreed to pay millions in compensation to a number of celebrities.  

The spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that all those responsible for the misdeeds at the News of the World should be brought to justice, the Reuters news agency reported.

"What matters is that all wrongdoing is exposed and those responsible for these appalling acts are brought to justice," the spokesman said. "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."

­According to Rob Lyons, deputy editor for the online magazine Spiked, the newspaper overstepped the boundaries of public taste by touching on very sensitive topics.

“The means, the views, are not really all that new or all that morally different from the things that local newspapers and national newspapers have been doing for a very long time,” he said.

“What is different about the last few days is that it is not just celebrities, it is not just politicians, it is now some very, very sensitive people,” he continued. “The Milly Dowler case is the most high profile. Trying to listen to the phone messages of people who have been involved in terrorist attacks, the victims of those things, are what has really gone a bit too far for most people’s taste.”

­News International Ltd, a daughter company of Rupert Murdoch’s media conglomerate News Corporation, also owns a number of other major British newspapers.

­Journalist Afshin Rattansi says there is very little sympathy for many of the journalists who work on Rupert Murdock’s tabloid newspapers. They are the very antithesis of what most people would see as journalists, he argued, and they work against the powerless for the powerful.

“I think there would be a lot of cheering around Britain for them losing their jobs and the newspaper going down,” Rattansi told RT.  “It might be the best-selling newspaper in Britain, but a lot of people don’t buy that newspaper. [Certainly not those] who have been hurt by it, those who have shown solidarity against the vicious campaigns by that newspaper against working people for decades.”

But he thinks this is going far deeper than just a journalism scandal.

“Now we have Scotland Yard internationally recognized as routinely, it seems, taking bribes,” he added. “They initially were supposed to inquire into this phone hacking scandal. And here we are hearing that the police [passed] up the first inquiry. Now we are hearing that money changed hands in bills and envelopes. Scotland Yard’s position is now is such that people here are calling for outside police forces, because the police force here is no longer trusted.”

­Media analyst and author Phil Rees told RT the scandal is likely to spell the end of arrangements through which police and politicians depended on coverage by Murdoch's newspapers – but says the paper's closure will have little effect on his media empire.

“For decades, British prime ministers have been on their knees to the Murdoch press, because they knew that when ‘The Sun’ supported a British politician running for the prime ministership, they won it,” Rees said. “So, you’ve got this demeaning of British democracy, diminishing of democracy, which the Murdoch press was at the heart of…. Important people needed the Murdoch press, and they couldn’t attack it because of that.”

“But as a businessman, Murdoch felt he had to sacrifice the News of the World,” Rees added, “Because in terms of the whole News International, it is a tiny part of all that – in terms of his global empire and the amount of money it brings. Yes, it was profitable, but he can sacrifice that very easily.”

“The most important thing in my view is that the political cast who’s been sucking up to Rupert Murdoch for so many years, including Prime Minister David Cameron – he now has to stand back and say, ‘No, I can’t do that any more, it has gone too bad,’” concluded Rees.

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