Murdoch Heads to London as News of the World Sets to Close

Posted July 9th, 2011 at 3:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Media baron Rupert Murdoch is headed to London to oversee his empire's response to the phone hacking scandal in Britain as journalists prepared the final edition of his best selling News of the World tabloid.

The News Corporation executive was set to arrive in Britain on Sunday, just as the last edition of his sensationalist newspaper hits newsstands, ending its 168-year history.

Murdoch, in the United States at a media conference, said Saturday that it was “a collective decision” to close News of the World as details emerged about the newspaper's journalists paying police for information and hacking into the voicemails of people it was preparing stories about. The voicemails of young murder victims were hacked, as well as those of families grieving over the loss of dead soldiers.

In a personal email to his staff, News of the World editor Colin Myler said he knew they would “produce a paper to be proud of.” But he said the paper's demise was “not where we want to be and it's not where we deserve to be.” About 200 journalists are expected to lose their jobs, although some could be rehired at other Murdoch publications.

As the scandal engulfed Britain, the opposition Labor Party pressed British Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, to speed up the official inquiry into the phone hacking allegations. The controversy could threaten – or at least delay – News Corporation's proposed $13 billion deal to acquire the part of the British broadcaster BSkyB it does not already own.

Mr. Cameron's former communications chief, along with a former editor, were arrested Friday as part of the investigation into the scandal.

Former Cameron spokesman Andy Coulson – who once worked as an editor at News of the World – was detained for suspected corruption and conspiring to intercept communications. The newspaper's former royal editor, Clive Goodman, was taken into custody as well.

Both men have now been released on bail, but Coulson will have to report to police in October. Coulson left the paper in 2007, the year Goodman and a private investigator spent time in jail over allegations they hacked into the phones of royal aides.

Police also searched the newsroom of a second tabloid, the Daily Star, where Goodman had been working since his release.

Mr. Cameron told reporters Friday that he gave Coulson a “second chance” to serve as media adviser after the former News of the World chief provided assurances of not having any knowledge of the incidents. But Mr. Cameron admitted his appointment of Coulson did not work out.

The prime minister was quoted as saying he takes “full responsibility” for his decision to appoint Coulson, who resigned in January as it became clear the alleged hacking had been widespread.

Mr. Cameron promised that a judge will lead a full public inquiry into the scandal after police conclude the investigation. He also pledged to appoint an independent panel to draft new regulations for British news organizations, whom he accused of failing to properly regulate their own conduct.

The prime minister said leaders of British political parties had long turned a “blind eye” to bad media practices in order to win the endorsements of newspapers.

Mr. Cameron said he heard reports that the chief executive of News Corporation's British unit, News International, has offered to resign over the scandal. Chief executive Rebekah Brooks previously managed the News of the World when many of the alleged phone hacking incidents took place, although she denies knowing anything about them at the time.

Mr. Cameron said he would accept Brooks' resignation if it were up to him. But on Saturday, Murdoch said he has “total” confidence in Brooks.