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It may not be the end of the world, but it is the end of the News of the World. Rupert Murdoch's media company News Corp. took the dramatic step yesterday of announcing that this Sunday would mark the last edition of the News of the World, the scandal-tarred British tabloid.
That may or may not contain the damage. This morning, Prime Minister David Cameron called for a full investigation into the phone hacking scandal, and at almost the same time, police arrested Andrew Coulson, a former top aide to Cameron, who was editor of News of the World when the phone hacking occurred.
NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reports from London.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: James Murdoch is the heir apparent at News Corp., and the head of the company's British operations. In a television interview, Murdoch said the allegations of widespread illegal phone hacking reflected deplorable behavior and required the paper's closure.
Mr. JAMES MURDOCH (News Corp.): This company has been a great investor in journalism, a greater investor in media in general, and it's something we believe very strongly in. And clearly certain activities did not live up to those standards, and that's a matter of great regret for me personally and for the company.
FOLKENFLIK: The scandal erupted at the most delicate of moments. News Corp. is seeking government approval to expand its stake in the broadcaster BSkyB from about 40 percent to the whole shebang.
Think of BSkyB as a hybrid of Comcast and DirecTV, with a near monopoly on televised sports. It was considered a done deal, especially given Prime Minister David Cameron's close ties to News Corp. executives.
But outrage mounted quickly and intensely when it was alleged that the tabloid targeted victims of violent crimes and the July 2005 terror bombings. Once-pliant politicians denounced the company, and once-lonely critics have now found a crowd.
Mr. PAUL FARRELLY (Member of Parliament): This is clearly a commercial decision in part to jettison a tainted and toxic brand because advertisers were fleeing in droves, and also we as MPs are being inundated with emails and calls from constituents asking us to stand up to News International.
FOLKENFLIK: That's Labor MP Paul Farrelly. He led a parliamentary inquiry into the first wave of allegations involving the hacking of celebrities, royals and politicians.
Mr. FARRELLY: We have some very serious and very good quality newspapers, but at the other end of the spectrum we have the News of the World, and they are feral. They clearly, over a long period of time, decided they were above the law, and that anything goes in getting a story.
FOLKENFLIK: But the decision to kill the paper has generated a reaction that has ranged from skepticism to cynicism. The actor Hugh Grant believes he too was hacked, and has publicly called on advertisers to boycott News of the World. He spoke to the BBC after James Murdoch's announcement.
Mr. HUGH GRANT (Actor): We should see this for what it is. It is a very cynical managerial maneuver, which has put several hundred not-evil people - there were certainly a lot of evil people there - but a lot of certainly non-editorial staff out of work. And has kept, in particular, one woman who was the editor, while Milly Dowler was being hacked, in a highly paid job.
FOLKENFLIK: Milly Dowler was the schoolgirl whose abduction nine years ago apparently inspired the tabloid to hack into her voicemail messages. Rebekah Brooks, then the paper's editor, is now the chief executive over the Murdochs' British newspapers. James Murdoch stated his support of her yesterday.
Mr. MURDOCH: I am satisfied that Rebekah, her leadership of this business and her standard of ethics and her standard of conduct throughout her career are very good. And I think what she has shown and what we have shown with our actions around transparently and proactively working with the police that actually she has led and this company has led.
FOLKENFLIK: Nonetheless, the British government has delayed ruling on the company's proposed takeover of BSkyB. And News Corp. signaled it might launch a Sunday edition of its brash and gossipy weekday tabloid The Sun. Conveniently, it could replace the gap left by the departure of that oh-so-nettlesome News of the World.
David Folkenflik, NPR News, London.
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