LONDON – Rupert Murdoch touched down in London on Sunday to take charge of his media empire’s phone-hacking crisis as his best-selling Sunday tabloid, the News of the World, published its last. The scandal lives on despite his sacrifice of the 168-year-old paper at the heart of it.
The scrapping of the News of the World has not tempered British anger over improprieties by journalists working for Murdoch, and his $19 billion deal to take full control of satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting remains in jeopardy.
The 80-year-old News Corp. CEO was seen reading the paper’s last issue in a red Range Rover as he was driven to the east London offices of his U.K. newspaper division, News International. Later, at his London apartment, he met with News International’s chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, who led News of the World when its reporters committed some of the most egregious ethical lapses.
Murdoch has publicly backed Brooks, who insists she had no knowledge of wrongdoing.
The drama gripping media watchers in Britain and beyond has expanded at breakneck pace following allegations News of the World journalists paid police for information and hacked into the voicemails of young murder victims and the grieving families of dead soldiers. Three people have been arrested, including Prime Minister David Cameron’s former communications chief.
In its last edition Sunday, the paper issued a full-page apology.
“Quite simply, we lost our way,” the editorial read.
Some of the 200 journalists being laid off from News of the World appeared to sneak in their own message to Brooks, who kept her job.
Clues in one crossword puzzle included “Brook,” “stink,” “catastrophe” and “criminal enterprise.”
The Guardian newspaper reported Sunday that emails and memos from 2007 only recently turned over to police indicate News International was aware that phone hacking was more widespread than publicly acknowledged. The BBC reported that News International had found emails at the same time that suggested payments were being made to police for information.
Closing down the News of the World was seen by some as a desperate attempt to stem negative fallout from the hacking scandal and thus save Murdoch’s $19 billion deal to get full ownership of BSkyB, of which he already holds a stake. The British government has signaled that deal will be delayed because of the crisis.
Britain’s opposition leader Ed Miliband warned that a Murdoch takeover of BSkyB should not be allowed while a phone-hacking investigation is ongoing, and he vowed to push for a parliamentary vote if Prime Minister David Cameron fails to act.