Murdoch closes ‘inhuman’ News of the World
‘A typical management stunt’ was how one politician described yesterday’s shock closure of Britain’s biggest newspaper. Or was it genuine remorse?
Without any warning, like a bolt from the blue, at around 5.00pm yesterday evening the news broke. The News of the World – one of the oldest, biggest, most profitable and most powerful newspapers in the world – was to close.
A few hours later another shock: Andy Coulson, a former editor of the News of the World and David Cameron’s former director of communications, was to be arrested.
The newspaper that had delighted, shocked and horrified millions of readers week after week for 168 continuous years, had itself become the biggest story of all.
The announcement came from James Murdoch, the son of the world’s most powerful media chief, 80-year-old Rupert Murdoch.
Speaking to staff he praised the paper’s tradition of fighting crime, exposing wrong-doing and ‘setting the news agenda for the nation’.
But then he turned to the dark side. He said that if recent allegations were right, the paper was ‘inhuman’ and ‘had no place in our company’. Its executives had misled the police and parliament. This Sunday would be the last edition.
Staff shouted in disbelief that they were losing their jobs while their chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, was keeping hers.
Why was the paper closed? For months there have been accusations that the News of the World hired private detectives to tap the phone messages of people in the news. This is illegal. But while the victims were wealthy celebrities the trouble was containable.
This week it emerged that some of the victims were in fact ordinary people caught, through no fault of their own, in personal tragedies. Milly Dowler, the murdered 13-year-old, for instance; or the widows of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
This was the tipping point. Suddenly public, politicians, media and business leaders were united in outrage. After months of concern about the corruption of the Murdoch media, the floodgates burst. A tidal wave of public fury was unleashed.
Genuine or fake?
The Murdoch camp says the closure of their biggest paper is an honest attempt to turn over a new leaf. It will hurt because they will lose millions in revenue.
But many disagree, saying it is simply ‘the boldest PR move of modern times’. They give five reasons. (i) Advertisers and readers were deserting the paper anyway. (ii) The paper will be immediately replaced by a Sunday version of The Sun, which will be the same product with a different name. (iii) The real motive was not shame, but to win political support for a more important commercial move: the full takeover of BskyB. (iv) The entire newspaper industry is in a panic because they have dirty secrets and put pressure on Murdoch to ditch one bad apple to stop the rot spreading. (v) David Cameron is in a panic and ordered the sacrifice of the paper in order to kill the scandal and move the story on.
- Was shutting down the News of the World the right thing to do?
- Executives at News International have repeatedly defended themselves by saying that the hackings were the work of rogue reporters and that they were ignorant of what was going on. Even if this is true, is it a convincing defence? Why / why not?
- Design a front page for the final edition of the News of The World. What you would put on it, and why?
- Write an email to send to Rebekah Brooks or Rupert Murdoch outlining what you think their next moves should be.
Some People Say...
“Tabloids have ruined British society.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- How did MPs react to the scandal?
- With outrage. They called it ‘appalling’, ‘sordid’ and ‘loathsome’.
- That’s a change of tone!
- Indeed. Politicians have been terrified of Murdoch for years and party leaders have always made huge efforts to gain his support.
- And now?
- The game has changed completely. Labour leader Ed Miliband went out of his way to attack News International this week, calling for Rebekah Brooks’ resignation. David Cameron will have to fight not to get caught up in the scandal himself.
- Why’s that?
- He is uncomfortably friendly with Rebekah Brooks. And with Coulson facing arrest, he may turn out to have hired a criminal.
- News agenda
- By the way in which they report a story, a powerful media outlet can influence what people feel is important and therefore what other media outlets will focus on.
- Tipping point
- The point at which a build up of small changes or incidents reaches such a level that a bigger change is triggered.
- The Murdoch media
- As well as many UK newspapers, Rupert Murdoch owns dozens of American and Australian magazines and newspapers including the hugely influential Wall Street Journal as well as American television station Fox. He is currently in talks to buy the rest of British BSkyB.