London The Murdoch media empire unexpectedly jettisoned the News of the World Thursday after a public backlash over the illegal guerrilla tactics it used to expose the rich, the famous and the royal and remain Britain’s best-selling Sunday newspaper.
The abrupt decision stunned the paper’s staff of 200, shocked the world’s most competitive news town and ignited speculation that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. plans to rebrand the tabloid under a new name in a bid to prevent a phone-hacking scandal from wrecking its bid for a far more lucrative television deal.
“This Sunday will be the last issue of the News of the World,” James Murdoch, son of the media magnate, announced in a memo to staff.
Mushrooming allegations of immoral and criminal behavior at the paper — including bribing police officers for information, hacking into the voice mail of murdered schoolgirls’ families and targeting the phones of the relatives of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and the victims of the London transit attacks — cast a dark cloud over News Corp.’s multibillion-dollar plan to take full ownership of British Sky Broadcasting, an operation far more valuable than all of Murdoch’s British newspapers.
Faced with growing public outrage, political condemnation and fleeing advertisers, Murdoch stopped the presses on the 168-year-old newspaper, whose lurid scoops have ranged from Sarah Ferguson’s claims she could provide access to ex-husband Prince Andrew to motor racing chief Max Mosley’s penchant for sadomasochism.
James Murdoch said all revenue from the final issue, which will carry no ads, would go to “good causes.” The paper has been hemorrhaging advertisers since the phone hacking scandal escalated this week, with companies including automakers Ford and Vauxhall, grocery chain J. Sainsbury and pharmacy chain Boots pulling ads from the paper.
Police say they are examining 4,000 names of people who may have been targeted by the tabloid, which sells about 2.7 million copies a week.