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News of the World, the 168 year old weekly tabloid closed down on July 10, 2011 following public outrage and inquiry regarding a phone hacking scandal. The Sunday newspaper was a News International publication. News International is a subsidy of News Corporation, the global enterprise. A major scandal broke out following revelations that the newspaper had authorized its reporters and correspondents to hack the voice-mails of many mobile phone users including a murdered schoolgirl. A withdrawal of advertisements and readership caused the publication to shut down.

News of the World

The News of the World was a prominent national tabloid of the United Kingdom owned by News International. The red top newspaper commenced publication on October 1, 1843 and was among the highest selling English newspapers of the world. By the time the tabloid decided to close down in July 2011, it had earned a wide circulation and a loyal readership.

News of the World was established by John Browne Bell as a broadsheet newspaper. It was then was bought by Sir William Emsley Carr in 1891. News International, formerly known as News Limited bought the publication in 1969. With its headquarters in London, News International was owned by Rupert Mudroch, the Australian-American businessman. Mudroch started to publish News of the World as a tabloid from 1984.

The weekly newspaper made a name for itself in sensationalism and in publishing scandals and controversies, and in politically motivated news. Celebrity gossip and sex scandals were its mainstay. Combining sensationalism with investigative journalism, News of the World earned the nickname News of the Screws. The tabloid reported sales of 2.6 million a week and a readership of 7.4 million by the time it was taken off the stands.

Phone Hacking Controversy

Starting 2006, News of the World was embroiled in controversies. It was reported that the tabloid had illegally hacked into a number of voice-mail accounts of mobile phone users. In 2007 the allegations were confirmed when the editor Andy Coulson resigned and reporter Clive Goodman courted arrested having pleaded guilty to illegally hacking voice-mails. By 2010 it became evident that illegally intercepting private communication was a common practice at the News of World office.

In January 2011, Glenn Mulcaire, a private detective hired by the tabloid’s senior management to hack voice-mail accounts testified in court causing much furor. In April 2011 it also became evident that Rupert Mudroch, the owner of News of the World had tried to cover up the scandal by using his political connections. Ian Edmondson, Neville Thurlbeck, and James Weatherup, three of the newspaper's leading correspondents, were arrested the same month. Among those whose voice-mails were hacked were members of the British Royal Family, celebrities and politicians, and victims of the London 2005 bombings. The tabloid apologized to the victims of the hacking but the final blow to the tabloid was served with the discovery that voice-mail messages from the account of a thirteen year old schoolgirl from Surrey, Milly Dowler had been deleted by the newspaper’s correspondents in 2002. Milly had been murdered and the deletion of potential evidence caused much public outrage. As a result of the controversy media ethics and journalistic practices in the UK started to be questioned. The investigation of the murder by the police was also criticized.

Cessation of Publication

The revelation that as many as 4,000 voice mail accounts were hacked into by News of the World correspondents and accusations of police bribery caused a huge public outcry. News International publications including News of the World were boycotted by advertisers and the public alike.   A withdrawal of advertisements caused grave concerns. On July 6, 2011 the British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to authorize a public inquiry following the police investigations. The newspaper’s management decided to end publication and on July 7, 2011, the tabloid announced its closure. The last edition of the red top tabloid was published on Sunday, July 10, 2011. Over twenty-two full time employees, ten part-time staff, and 200 editorial employees were affected by the closure decision but News International assured to offer some employees positions with its other publications.

Further Developments

To investigate the fallout of the scandal, a committee was formed on July 13, 2011, led by Lord Justice Leveson. Another inquiry into British press practices was also initiated. A number of resignations followed the inquiry. News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks and the legal manager Tom Crone resigned and the owner Rupert Mudroch and his son James Mudroch were served notices to testify before a parliamentary committee. Andy Coulson, the former managing editor, and Neil Wallis, the former executive editor of the tabloid were arrested.

It was also suggested that the cessation of News of the World publication was a move made to protect the interests of News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks. The closure of News of the World did not end the controversy surrounding the tabloid. Many believed that the closure was a red herring. News International had earlier made a bid to acquire a 61% stake at BSkyB (British Sky Broadcasting Group). This triggered concerns that BSkyB’s acquisition would lead to an unwarranted concentration of media power in the wrong hands. It was also widely speculated that The Sun, a sister publication of News of the World, would release a Sunday edition and News International would effectively rebrand the tabloid to bury the controversy. These allegations were also fueled by the fact that the domain thesunonsunday.com had been registered by a company called Mediaspring two days before the closure. On July 13, 2011, Rupert Mudroch put an end to the allegations by announcing a withdrawal of the takeover bid.

Last Updated on: September 30th, 2021
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