Murdoch backs under-fire UK papers boss

News Corp chief expected in London to tackle phone hacking crisis as tainted tabloid’s final edition hits the shelves.

News of the World final front page

Rupert Murdoch has given a vote of confidence to the head of his troubled British newspaper business as he prepares to fly to London to handle the fallout of a phone hacking crisis that has tarnished his media empire.

Asked at a conference in Idaho on Saturday whether Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of the News Corp-owned News International company, had his support, Murdoch said his support for Wade was “total”.

“I’m not throwing innocent people under the bus,” he added. “We’ve been let down by people that we trusted, with the result the paper let down its readers.”

The arrival in the UK of the 80-year-old News Corp chief executive, expected on Sunday, coincides with the publication of the final edition of the News of the World, the now-notorious Sunday tabloid newspaper at the centre of the scandal.

The 168-year-old newspaper, famous for its populist and lurid headlines often exposing the indiscretions of celebrities and politicians, has been the UK’s best selling Sunday title for years, selling more than 2.6 million copies a week. The final edition is expected to sell millions more.

Its final front page headline, published online on Saturday night, read: “Thank you and goodbye.”

In an editorial published on its website, the paper said it had “lost its way”.

“Phones were hacked, and for that this newspaper is truly sorry. There is no justification for this appalling wrong-doing. No justification for the pain caused to victims, nor for the deep stain it has left on a great history.”

British police arrested Andy Coulson on Friday – the former spokesperson for David Cameron, the UK prime minister – who had resigned as News of the World editor in 2007 after one of his reporters and a private investigator were convicted of hacking into the phones of aides to the royal family.

Coulson was later released on bail until October. Asked if he was being made a scapegoat for the scandal, he told reporters: “I can’t say any more at this stage. There’s a lot I’d like to say, but I can’t.”

After years of allegations about hacking the voicemail of celebrities and politicians in search of stories, the scandal reached a tipping point earlier this week when it was alleged that in 2002 the paper had listened to the voicemail of Milly Dowler, a missing schoolgirl who was later found murdered, and even deleted some of her messages to make way for more.

That claim, and allegations that a growing list of victims included Britain’s war dead and the families of those killed in the 2005 London transport bombings, outraged readers and caused many brands to pull advertising from the title.

Media dominance

Murdoch, who began News International in the 1960s, is bidding buy to takeover British satellite broadcaster BSkyB, and analysts say that deal could be jeopardised if British regulators impose tougher rules in response to new concerns around News Corp’s dominance in British media.

Cameron’s opponents on the left want to block the $22bn bid on the grounds it would give Murdoch too much political clout.

Rebekah Brooks
LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 07: News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks leaves the office of The News of The World on July 7, 2011 in London, England. Following further serious allegations that phone hacking was widespread at the News of the World newspaper, Chief Executive of News Crop. James Murdoch has announced the newspaper will close.. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Brooks denies knowledge of phone hacking while she edited the New of the World [GALLO/GETTYS]

Coulson’s arrest by police on suspicion of conspiring in the illegal practice forced Cameron to defend his judgment while promising new controls on the British press.

In a sign of how the scandal could escalate further, The Guardian newspaper reported on its website that police were investigating evidence an executive at News International may have deleted millions of emails from an internal archive in an apparent attempt to obstruct investigations.

A spokesperson for News International said the allegation was “rubbish”. She said: “We are co-operating actively with police and have not destroyed evidence.”

In his remarks on Friday, Cameron said he took “full responsibility” for his decision to appoint Coulson, who quit the prime minister’s team in January when police reopened inquiries.

“Murder victims, terrorist victims, families who have lost loved ones in war … That these people could have had their phones hacked into in order to generate stories for a newspaper is simply disgusting,” he said.

Public inquiry

Cameron said only a new system of media regulation and a full public inquiry into what went wrong over a decade at News of the World and beyond would meet public demand.

“This scandal is not just about some journalists on one newspaper,” Cameron said.

“It’s not even just about the press. It’s also about the police. And, yes, it’s also about how politics works and politicians too.”

Cameron also criticised Brooks,who was Coulson’s predecessor as editor and is now a confidante of Murdoch. She should have resigned, he said, after closing down the newspaper at a cost of 200 jobs.

Cameron said politicians of all parties had been in thrall to press barons for decades. He indicated a new assertiveness towards the Murdoch empire by withholding overt endorsement of News Corp’s bid for BSkyB.

The police also face tough questions over why an initial investigation into phone hacking was closed after the convictions of one of the paper’s journalists and a private investigator in 2007. Detectives are also now looking into payments, in the tens of thousands of pounds, by journalists to police.

‘Toxic’ brand

Journalists putting together the final edition of the News of the World had an emotional, sometimes angry, meeting with Brooks, who told them, according to a staffer who was present, that the title had become “toxic”.

There was “seething anger” and “pure hatred” directed towards her, one reporter said: “We think they’re closing down a whole newspaper just to protect one woman’s job.”

Speaking to Al Jazeera, the lawyer representing Milly Dowler’s family, Mark Lewis, said the press had failed in their duty: “It’s not about that [retribution], it’s about the truth. And that’s what the News of the World and other newspapers were meant to be – beacons of truth.

“They were meant to the fourth estate, holding as a check to the third estate. This is a watershed moment for the press … that they have entered into the corruption that they were seeking to expose of others.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies