Rupert Murdoch has sacrificed the News of the World in a desperate attempt to cauterise a crisis at his $46bn global media empire, as his son admitted personal fault in handling the escalating phone hacking scandal at the British tabloid newspaper.
James Murdoch, News Corp’s deputy chief operating officer, said that the 168-year-old title would print its last issue this Sunday. His father’s 1969 purchase of the racy tabloid, which specialised in sex scandals and populist campaigns, launched the then-Australian press baron on the world stage.
As insiders described a mood of gathering alarm at News Corp, James Murdoch said that both the News of the World and News International, the UK newspaper arm for which he has been responsible since 2007, “failed to get to the bottom of repeated wrongdoing that occurred without conscience or legitimate purpose”.
Acknowledging that he had not had a full picture of the wrongdoing at News of the World when he had approved out-of-court settlements to some hacking victims, he said: “This was wrong and is a matter of serious regret.”
“Those who acted wrongly will have to face the consequences,” he added. But he stood by Rebekah Brooks, the former News of the World editor who is now chief executive of News International, saying her leadership was “crucial”.
“I am confident that she neither had knowledge of or directed these activities,” he told Sky News.
Ms Brooks read Mr Murdoch’s e-mail to shocked and tearful staff at the UK newspaper’s Wapping headquarters.
A senior journalist at the News of the World said that Ms Brooks had offered to resign both on Wednesday and again on Thursday, but her offer had been declined on each occasion. Staff were told this at a meeting on Thursday afternoon which was chaired by Colin Mylers, the current editor.
There will be a 90-day “consultation period” from Thursday, during which time all staff will still be paid.
Staff expect the News of the World to be replaced by a seven-day version of The Sun, its daily sister paper, but said no decisions had been taken on such a plan.
The move stunned many Britons, who have been outraged by the latest hacking revelations, but is unlikely to stop police investigations, public inquiries, calls for tougher press regulation and lawsuits threatening News Corp’s UK business or quell the opposition to its $12bn attempt to take full control of British Sky Broadcasting, the UK satellite broadcaster.
Ed Miliband, the opposition Labour leader, said Ms Brooks’ position was “untenable”, noting that “the only person staying in her job” had been editor of the News of the World in 2002 when the paper is alleged to have listened into and deleted voicemail messages on the mobile phone of Milly Dowler, a murdered teenager.
He called on the prime minister to announce a judge-led inquiry with full power to subpoena documents and take evidence on oath, with terms of reference set down before parliament rises on July 19.
Before the Thursday afternoon announcement, Jeremy Hunt, culture secretary, had been expected to delay until September his verdict on whether to allow News Corp’s pursuit of BSkyB to proceed, after being deluged with 100,000 submissions on the deal.
A week of allegations that News of the World representatives hacked into the voicemails of the bereaved families of murdered children, British soldiers and terrorist victims, and authorised payments to members of the police has triggered a backlash.
Advertisers had been pulling away from the Sunday newspaper, whose circulation has fallen from above 6m to 2.6m copies in 40 years.
David Wooding, political editor of the News of the World, said: “The jobs of a lot of people who have done nothing wrong have been sacrificed for what happened in the past.”
The National Union of Journalists said some sub-editors on the sister paper had staged a walk out on Thursday night in support of their colleagues.