Media: Murdoch acts on NOTW and NBT, say some
News Corporation, the sprawling network of media companies controlled by Rupert Murdoch includes, in a bunker-like building designed, in part, to protect workers from siege during a particularly nasty labour dispute, News International with the world's (once) flagship newspaper The Times and one of its most scurrilous rags: The News of The World, renowned for being a hair's breadth out of the gutter and, often, not even managing that. But even the NOTW has gone too far and risks damaging the entire Murdoch empire. Its last issue will appear on Sunday. Not before time.
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The News of The World for most of the last forty years has been, a disgraceful publication. It has been utterly intrusive into the private lives of people who have suffered misfortune (some of it admittedly self-inflicted).
It has claimed that it has a right to bring to the public's attention anything that it thinks is in the public interest: but by that it does not mean the phrase in its technical sense but rather that it will titillate the baser instincts of its readership.
It has had, for decades, a loyal following including amongst those who, in public, decry it. It has been required reading by politicians and business leaders anxious to see (either because they like it or because they hate the idea) if they have been named in the paper.
There has been a curious love-hate relationship with public figures: a tip to an NOTW journo that a public figure is misbehaving (at least in a newsworthy way) could be worth some serious cash.
It has long been public knowledge that NOTW journalists (and more recently "investigators" acting on their behalf so as to distance the journalists and the paper itself) have had a cosy relationship with certain police officers - a relationship that often crossed over into bribery for tips and other information.
It is the brutal release of this information to the wider public and the raising of the matter in Parliament that has at last blown the lid off the NOTW.
The newspaper has been embroiled in a scandal over the hacking into mobile phones and that, too, reached a new level of disgrace when it was revealed this week that the paper's agents had (allegedly) listened into the calls, and read SMSs, of victims of the London terrorist attacks on 7 July 2007 and to the messages of murdered teenagers.
There has always been a big question as to just how low the NOTW would go, and the general answer is that there was no floor.
Murdoch is right to close it. He's wrong to close it now. He should have closed it years ago.
To close it now is not because it is a morally reprehensible rag but because it is threatening to drag the senior management and other journalists across the group into an investigation and what it finds might not be good.
And, interestingly, it appears that as much interest has been generated across other media by advertisers who have cancelled ads in the paper than by the underlying causes. Again, those advertisers have some soul searching to do: they have supported the activities of the NOTW for decades but now, when a scandal erupts, they do not want guilt by association.
The NOTW was formerly edited by Rebekah (sic) Brooks. She was in charge when some of these things happened. She is also a former editor of The Sun - a more traditional tabloid with a "laddish" viewpoint but rarely stooping to NOTW sensationalism. Some have considered the NOTW to be a "Sunday Sun" but while there is some similarity, it is limited. But Brooks is now Chief Executive of News International and, publicly at least, has Murdoch's full support.
In 2007, when the phone tapping scandal began, the then editor Andy Coulson, resigned. He was replaced by Colin Myer with a brief to clean up the paper's behaviour. But it needed results and, despite its trashy purpose, it did some serious journalism, too. It was the NOTW that broke the story of the betting scandal in the Pakistan cricket team, for which it won an award.
Speaking of appalling behaviour "under a previous regime," Myer told the staff, according to a report in The Financial Times "this is not the same newspaper that staff recognise today."
What terrifies Murdoch is that the name of The News of the World is right outside the same building that houses The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun: their nameplates form a neat rectangle. He is close to final approval to take over the part of SkyTV which he does not already own. That will make him by far the most powerful media baron in Europe with the possible exception of Silvio Berlusconi who seems to have little interest in the day to day running of the empire he created, much of which has been shuffled off to avoid conflict of interests allegations in his political career), despite one condition of the deal being that the new group must divest itself of Sky News (a serious shame: it is a much, much better news channel than many especially the desperate Fox News that also falls within Murdoch's regime).
What if, he worries, there is contagion across the rest of the UK businesses and advertising drops there? What if web advertising networks see their customers banning their ads from appearing on any News International - or, much worse, News Corporation website?
Or cancel campaigns on broadcast media?
The potential fall-out from this week's revelations are, for the entire Murdoch empire, catastrophic.
Has he protected his organisation? Yes. Because, as is often said, money has no conscience. That the disgrace that was the NOTW was condoned, no actively supported through libel case after libel case and inquiry after inquiry, will be forgotten. Murdoch will be seen as the man who killed a paper because its staff behaved badly and will be seen in a positive light. That he was the one who presided over a newspaper that regularly ruined or tarnished people's lives (Max Mosely of F1 for one) will be overlooked. The advertisers will support him because he has taken a strong stand.
It is often also said that today's news is tomorrow's fish and chip wrapper.
By that reckoning, by Tuesday morning all that will be left of the News of the World will be some indigestion and a few scraps of greasy paper.
Kind of fitting, really.