Phone Hacking and the Closure of the “News of the World”

This post is cross-posted from the INFORRM blog

By Brian Cathcart

The phone hacking scandal has claimed its latest and greatest victim to date: the “News of the World” itself.   It was announced this afternoon that the last edition edition of the newspaper would be next Sunday, 10 July 2011.  The newspaper was founded in 1843 and was acquired by Rupert Murdoch in 1969.  Forty two years later it will close.

The closure announcement comes after the extraordinary acceleration of the phone hacking scandal over the past few days.   The public outrage was brought to new heights by the story that the voice mail of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler had been hacked.  This was closely followed by stories of hacking the families of the Soham murder victims, 7/7 victims and the families of deceased soldiers.  Today there were claims that the newspaper had paid bribes worth up to £100,000 to five police officers.  The Operation Weeting officers disclosed that there were 4,000 names in the Mulcaire papers.

As advertisers withdrew their support for the newspaper, the Prime Minister announced that there would be a public inquiry into phone hacking. The situation appeared to be out of control and the News International’s inconsistent and apparently confused crisis management strategy was failing to cope.  Amid rumbles of journalistic insurrection in the “News of the World” offices and ever more vocal “off the record” criticism of Rebekah Brooks, the Murdochs took decisive action: Ms Brooks would stay but the “News of the World” would go.

The chairman of News International, James Murdoch, circulated a statement to staff containing further admissions of past errors:

the News of the World and News International failed to get to the bottom of repeated wrongdoing that occurred without conscience or legitimate purpose.  … the News of the World and News International wrongly maintained that these issues were confined to one reporter. We now have 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.

This was not the only fault.  The paper made statements to Parliament without being in the full possession of the facts. The Company paid out-of-court settlements approved by me. I now know that I did not have a complete picture when I did so. This was wrong and is a matter of serious regret.

It remains to be seen whether this move will finally “draw a line” under the crisis.  Unfortunately for News International its past conduct has led to a high degree of public cynicism about its actions.  It is already being suggested that the closure is a cosmetic exercise – with the paper rising from the ashes in the near future as the “Sun on Sunday”.

Many will argue that if public confidence in News International is ever to be restored there has to be full public disclosure of the nature and extent of the admitted wrongdoing in the course of a judicial inquiry.

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