In a rather grandiose gesture, James Murdoch is closing down The News of the World, the infamous British tabloid, and swapping its operations over to alternate publications. And yet, it’s not known to what degree those who were involved in the wrongdoing at News of the World will see real-world consequences . . . and what happened was utterly, utterly horrific.
This Sunday’s edition of the News of the World will be its last, News International chairman James Murdoch has said, after days of increasingly damaging allegations against the paper.
The 168-year-old tabloid is accused of hacking into the mobile phones of crime victims, celebrities and politicians.
On Thursday, the Met Police said it was seeking to contact 4,000 possible targets named in seized documents.
Its editor Colin Myler said it was “the saddest day of my professional career”.
He added that “nothing should diminish everything this great newspaper has achieved”.
The News of the World, which sells about 2.8 million copies a week, is famed for its celebrity scoops and sex scandals, earning it the nickname, the News of the Screws.
Downing Street has said it had no role or involvement in the decision to close.
Mr Murdoch said no advertisements would run in this weekend’s paper – instead any advertising space would be donated to charities and good causes, and proceeds from sales would also go to good causes.
News International has refused to comment on rumours that the Sun could now become a seven-day-a-week operation.
“What happens to the Sun is a matter for the future,” a spokeswoman for News International said. The Sun, another News International tabloid, is currently published from Monday to Saturday.
The spokeswoman also refused to say whether the 200 or so employees at the paper would be made redundant, saying: “They will be invited to apply for other jobs in the company.”
The atmosphere outside News International’s Wapping headquarters is one of shock and bewilderment.
Staff had no idea what was coming – they were told the previous day that the paper would be rebuilding its reputation. Rebekah Brooks was inside the building when the staff were informed that the paper was closing.
She was apparently in tears, as were many of the journalists. There was said to be a huge amount of anger that Rebekah Brooks has kept her job whilst theirs had been lost.
Most staff left this evening shaking their heads. One, their political editor, David Wooding spoke to reporters outside. He said he was baffled at the decision, describing the paper as a clean outfit and saying most staff were not working there when the hacking is alleged to have happened.
This evening, some of the the Sun’s journalists – the sister paper to the NoW, told the BBC they were walking out for a short period in solidarity with their colleagues.
The News of the World’s political editor, David Wooding, who joined 18 months ago, said it was a fantastic paper.
“They cleared out all the bad people. They bought in a great new editor, Colin Myler, and his deputy, Victoria Newton, who had not been sullied by any of the things that had gone on in the past.
“And there’s nobody there, there’s hardly anybody there who was there in the old regime.”
The Guardian says that Andy Coulson, formerly David Cameron’s director of communications, will be arrested on Friday morning over suspicions that he knew about, or had direct involvement in, the hacking of mobile phones during his time as editor of the News of the World.
The Guardian also says that a former senior journalist at the paper will also be arrested in the next few days.
There have been repeated calls for Rebekah Brooks – the former editor, now News International’s chief executive – to resign. But in an interview Mr Murdoch stood by her again, saying he was satisfied with her conduct.
In a statement made to staff, Mr Murdoch said the good things the News of the World did “have been sullied by behaviour that was wrong – indeed, if recent allegations are true, it was inhuman and has no place in our company”.
“The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself.”
He went on: “In 2006, the police focused their investigations on two men. Both went to jail. But the News of the World and News International failed to get to the bottom of repeated wrongdoing that occurred without conscience or legitimate purpose.
“Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad and this was not fully understood or adequately pursued.
“As a result, 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. This was wrong.
“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.”
He said: “So, just as I acknowledge we have made mistakes, I hope you and everyone inside and outside the company will acknowledge that we are doing our utmost to fix them, atone for them, and make sure they never happen again.
“Having consulted senior colleagues, I have decided that we must take further decisive action with respect to the paper. This Sunday will be the last issue of the News of the World.”
Monday’s revelation that a private investigator had hacked into the phone messages of Milly Dowler brought an entirely new dimension to the phone-hacking saga.
The targets were no longer celebrities and politician but ordinary people already going through dreadful experiences.
This morning, as more advertisers pulled out, it became clear many people did not want to be associated with the News of the World.
But no one foresaw that James Murdoch would close it altogether.
The Murdoch family have once again shown their power to surprise and to take dramatic decisions. But on reflection, the decision may not have been as difficult as it first appears.
There is already a substitute Sunday paper waiting in the wings.
Earlier this month, News International announced a management restructure, making it easier for its papers to move to seven-day working. How long will it be before the Sun is published on Sundays?
He reiterated that the company was fully co-operating with the two ongoing police investigations.
He added: “While we may never be able to make up for distress that has been caused, the right thing to do is for every penny of the circulation revenue we receive this weekend to go to organisations that improve life in Britain and are devoted to treating others with dignity.”
The BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, said that Rupert Murdoch has sacrificed the News of the World – or, at least, its title – instead of the chief executive of News International, Rebekah Brooks.
“Team Murdoch must have realised that it would be referred to again and again over the next few months in connection with the alleged phone-hacking of a murdered girl, grieving parents and war widows,” he said.