■ Murdoch closes best-selling tabloid in desperate bid to save rest of his empire
■ Bid for BSkyB hangs in balance as Hunt delays decision until September
RUPERT MURDOCH abruptly ended his 42 year ownership of the News of the World yesterday, killing off the iconic brand in a desperate bid to save the rest of his media empire.
The tycoon’s bleakest hour saw his son James issue a grovelling apology for the newspaper’s behaviour, with trusted ally Rebekah Brooks said to be in tears as she told staff that the 168-year-old title would print its last edition on Sunday.
Editor Colin Myler said the decision marked “the saddest day of my career”, adding “nothing should diminish everything this great newspaper has achieved”.
Murdoch hopes the ruthless closure of the paper – which still sells 2.7m copies a week – will help stop the contagion of the phone hacking scandal affecting his multi-billion pound bid for BSkyB.
However, the deal is by no means guaranteed, with culture minister Jeremy Hunt stalling its clearance until the autumn in light of a record number of submissions against it.
The scandal shows no sign of abating, with ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson, a former aide to David Cameron, widely expected to be arrested today to face questioning over his involvement in the phone hacking scandal.
He is thought to be one of at least two senior News International employees about to be grilled by police.
James Murdoch yesterday admitted he had wrongly blamed a single rogue reporter for the hacking scandal, saying he was not fully aware of the facts. He also said he was wrong to have authorised out-of-court settlements to phone hacking victims.
However, he stood by Brooks, saying she remains the woman to lead the organisation, despite being editor during many of the worst instances of phone hacking.
She faced renewed calls to step down last night from politicians on both sides of the divide. It is understood she was accompanied by security as she broke the news to devastated News of the World journalists, with one reporter saying there was a “lynch mob” mentality towards her. Another added there is a “universal hatred” of her.
The last edition of the News of the World will not feature any paid-for adverts, with the space instead turned over to charities. All sales revenue will be donated to good causes.
Around 200 journalists have been placed on three month gardening leave pending a decision on whether they will be redeployed within News International. However, it is widely expected the firm will take the opportunity to slash a large proportion of the staff. News International last month began to restructure its newspapers into a more integrated operation, including the creation of two managing editors role to oversee all four of its newspapers.
Sources close to the firm told City A.M. a Sunday version of the UK’s best selling daily paper the Sun could launch as soon as this month. A spokesman for News International declined to comment on “speculation” and said she was not aware of any final decision. Speculation was fuelled yesterday when it emerged the domain names thesunonsunday.co.uk and .com were registered on Tuesday.
News Corp’s US stock rallied during trading before closing marginally down, following a 3.5 per cent plunge a day earlier. Sky dropped almost two per cent.