News of the World’s closure: Good for News Corp, bad for press freedom

In a surprising move today, News Corporation announced it will close weekly British tabloid News of the World. The last edition of the 168-year-old newspaper will be published Sunday.

The news comes following a dramatic scandal in which newspaper employees have been accused of hacking into the phones of celebrities, politicians and even a murdered schoolgirl and dead soldiers. Many members of the public have boycotted the publication, and marketers have pulled advertising, Reuters noted.

Shutting down the most highly circulated newspaper in the UK is the best way to “stem the flow of damaging headlines at rival newspapers and clear regulatory hurdles that stand in the way of New Corp.s’ pending multi-billion-dollar acquisition of British Sky Broadcasting, a cash cow that will boost earnings of the media giant,” analysts told The Associated Press. “Shutting a newspaper amid an industry-wide decline in print advertising revenue and increasing its stake in a profitable and expanding pay TV company will actually improve News Corp.’s profitability.”

News of the World is a very small entity in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which had US$32 billion in sales in 2010, the Christian Science Monitor pointed out.

News of the closure broke at the end of office hours today. One of the newspaper’s employees told the CSM that News Corp. has “put the staff on the line instead of Rebekah Brooks … . I’m absolutely in shock. It seems Rupert would do anything to save the Sky deal, including killing off the biggest selling newspaper in the country.”

Others said although the closure would be good for Murdoch’s empire, they worried shutting down the newspaper would be bad for free speech in the country.

In an announcement published on the paper’s website, James Murdoch noted that most, if not all, current employees are new to the company or had no connection to News of the World “during the years when egregious behaviour occurred.”

Murdoch noted that although two men went to jail in 2006, the newspaper 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.”

Murdoch also blamed himself, saying he “did not have a complete picture” when approving out-of-court settlements, and that the paper gave statements to Parliament without having all the facts.

As the newspaper discovered that the issues were not confined to just one reporter, it handed over evidence to police, and “those who acted wrongly will have to face the consequences,” he wrote.

“You may see these changes as a price loyal staff at the News of the World are paying for the transgressions of others. So please hear me when I say that your good work is a credit to journalism. I do not want the legitimacy of what you do to be compromised by acts of others. I want all journalism at News International to be beyond reproach. I insist that this organisation lives up to the standard of behaviour we expect of others. And, finally, I want you all to know that it is critical that the integrity of every journalist who has played fairly is restored,” he stated.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., of which News International is part, also owns UK newsmedia outlets the Sun tabloid newspaper, The Times and Sunday Times, and broadcaster Sky.

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