SCOTT SIMON, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
The scandal that rocked the News Corporation media empire this week has also shaken Britain's political establishment. Reporters working for the News Corp. tabloid News of the World allegedly hacked into citizens' phones and made illegal payments to police for information.
Those revelations prompted News Corp to shut down News of the World. The last issue comes out tomorrow. The scandal has cast light on the ties between the powerful man behind News Corp., Rupert Murdoch, and British politicians. NPR's David Folkenflik reports.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: The past five prime ministers have courted Rupert Murdoch assiduously in gaining and holding onto office - none more so than Labour's Tony Blair. In plotting his path to 10 Downing Street in the mid-1990s, Blair once flew to an island off the coast of Murdoch's native Australia to address an annual shareholder meeting of News Corp. That impressed Murdoch, who threw his support to Blair's new Labour movement. Labour Member of Parliament Paul Farrelly questions how many votes Murdoch's publications can really deliver.
PAUL FARRELLY: There are two reasons for Rupert Murdoch's clout in the U.K. One has been a perception that his newspapers have influenced the outcomes of elections. That's doubtful. What Rupert Murdoch does is before elections, he backs winners - or political parties he thinks are going to win.
FOLKENFLIK: Murdoch controls two of the most prestigious papers in the country as well as the two most widely read - both tabloids. Despite his conservative leanings, Murdoch and his papers have swung to leaders of both major political parties. So his patronage constantly appears to be in play.
Farrelly says there's a second, more sinister reason for politicians to curry favor.
FARRELLY: There is the threat of intrusion, the sword hanging over people if they take a powerful, vested interest in the press on. And that's a fact of life.
FOLKENFLIK: Murdoch's News of the World was called News of the Screws by some people. His Sunday tabloid has been known for its brutal, gossipy takedown of out-of-favor politicians.
But no more. Murdoch's son James announced Thursday that Sunday's News of the World would be its last edition because of the cresting allegations about phone hacking and payoffs to police.
Simon Kelner is the editor-in-chief of the London newspaper The Independent. He says the closing of the News of the World marks a pivotal moment for Murdoch and News Corp. in the U.K.
SIMON KELNER: They've used their power in ways that we know about, and ways that we don't know about. And what you've seen this week is not just the first cracks of the edifice, but you've seen the edifice - possibly begins to tumble.
FOLKENFLIK: Prime Minister David Cameron's ties to News Corp. executives are now a liability. Cameron is friendly with James Murdoch. He's close to Rebekah Brooks, the former News of the World editor who's chief executive over the company's British newspapers. And he hired Andrew Coulson as his communications director after Coulson resigned as editor of News of the World in an earlier stage of the scandal. Coulson also resigned from his government job in January and yesterday, he was arrested for his alleged involvement in the scandal.
Simon Jenkins is former editor of Murdoch's Times of London.
SIMON JENKINS: There's no doubt it's been hugely damaging to the Murdoch interests in Britain.
FOLKENFLIK: Jenkins says the alleged acts by the News of the World are indefensible, but have been blown out of proportion by rival news organizations such as The Guardian and the BBC.
JENKINS: Politicians have suddenly started to distance themselves from Murdoch because Murdoch's not popular. Other times, politicians of both major parties craved his attention in the most groveling fashion.
FOLKENFLIK: Now, even some members of Cameron's party have sharp words. Here's conservative Zac Goldsmith during debate at the House of Commons this week.
ZAC GOLDSMITH: Rupert Murdoch is clearly a very, very talented businessman. He's possibly even a genius. But his organization has grown too powerful, and it has abused that power. It has systematically corrupted the police. And in my view, it has gelded this parliament - to our shame.
FOLKENFLIK: Cameron moved Friday to distance himself from Murdoch and News Corp., saying he owed the public something.
PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON (United Kingdom) Some frankness about what the politicians got wrong themselves, a relationship that became too close, too cozy. We were all in this world of wanting the support of newspaper groups and, yes, even broadcasting organizations.
As Cameron hints there, the real money is in TV. And Murdoch also controls the nation's largest broadcaster, nicknamed BSkyB, but only actually owns 39 percent of it. He wants it all, and was expected to get swift approval from the government. Cameron now says the review will be slowed, and a separate regulatory ljeff agency now signals it may evaluate the bid as well.
The Independent's Kelner says the new uncertainties surrounding the bid for the broadcaster is at the root of the decision to shut down the tainted tabloid.
KELNER: There is an argument to say that Murdoch made a very careful - other people might say cynical - calculation. What was worth more to him: the News of the World, or full ownership of BSkyB?
FOLKENFLIK: The Sky deal would generate billions of additional pounds in revenue for News Corp. And as former editor Simon Jenkins points out, in the U.K., Murdoch's influence is ultimately not in pursuit of political power. It's about the bottom line.
David Folkenflik, NPR News, London.
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