Yesterday, News International closed Britain's most popular newspaper to try and shake off the terrible reputation that News of the World has thrust upon the Murdoch empire. Up to 10 million people were expected to purchase the final edition of the tabloid, 168 years after it was first published.
Instead of answering calls by senior politicians to sack a single News International executive, Murdoch has opted to make two hundred talented employees redundant by axing his most successful paper. Leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, called for Rebekah Brooks to leave her position in PMQs on Wednesday, and has been consistent with these requests since. However, Murdoch has ignored these calls and stood by Brooks, despite growing evidence regarding her involvement in the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone whilst she was missing in 2002. How far the media mogul will go to protect her is unclear, but what is clear is Rupert Murdoch's wish to keep Rebekah Brooks extremely close.
Journalists at News of the World were told on Thursday afternoon that this week would be their last working for the paper, given no notice before the news channels were also alerted. The vast majority of these journalists didn't even work for the paper at the time of the allegations. They have lost their jobs as a result of the actions of a few people who are currently still in work. Creative staff have been left unemployed, as a sacrifice to save members of senior management. As if they couldn't have been more broken in a single day, there are reports that News International even cut off internet access in their building so staff could not tweet details regarding what was happening to the defunct publication. More reliable sources from inside the News of the World offices have claimed that employees were monitored constantly by security supervisors on Friday.
To add salt to their wounds, the paper is likely to be rebranded under a different name. Rumours suggest that The Sun may become a seven day newspaper, with the domain name "thesunonsunday.co.uk" being registered by an anonymous buyer on Tuesday. When questioned on the future of News International's Sunday red top in an interview with ITV's Tom Bradby on Thursday evening, James Murdoch said decisions would be made within the next week. Mrs Brooks reiterated this point on Friday behind closed doors, allegedly confirming the corporation's intention for a seven day Sun.
In other words, the future of a 168 year old British media institution and over two hundred jobs have been lost, simply so News International can rebrand it's Sunday red top. Following James Murdoch's announcement of the closure late Thursday afternoon, the immediate reaction of everyone, from journalists to politicians, was that the axing of the News of the World was, plainly, a publicity stunt. This may be a point of agreement for pundits, but the analysts seem to be disagreeing on the public's reaction to this simple remarketing ploy. Some have said that the public are too clever to be fooled by the scheme, and that any Sunday tabloid published by Murdoch after this weekend will gain little respect or attention. Others are suggesting that the consumers care less about the scandal than is being made out, and that there will always be demand for a Murdoch red top in the shops on a Sunday morning. Whichever view point is correct, the News Corporation Chairman has a lot riding on this latest gamble.
During Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday afternoon, Rupert Murdoch's main issue was laid bare for all to see. Within minutes of the phone hacking scandal at News of the World being brought up, the current News Corporation bid for BSkyB managed to crop up too. These two stories are running side by side, and the reports of corruption and deceit in Murdoch's publications are threatening to derail his bid for Europe's biggest broadcasting arm. Last year, BSkyB made profits of £3.4 billion, whilst the four newspapers that make up News International (The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun, News of the World) only made £400 million. That may be a lot of money, but it's simple maths for Rupert Murdoch. He is aware of the scale of profit he would gain, should his bid for BSkyB be approved by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and British media regulator Ofcom.
So, let's be honest- BSkyB is what this all is about. It is why Rupert Murdoch has flown in to the country, it is why News International keeps on emphasising that a lot has changed in the four years since it last hacked into someone's personal voice messages, and it is why James Murdoch shut one of Fleet Street's most prestigious and popular papers, consequentially putting 200 able employees out of a job. Rebekah Brooks has kept tight-lipped when answering questions this week. However, she has been very keen to put forward her intention to improve the reputation of News International. Is this just so she can restore the faith of the British people in the free press that we have championed for so long? Or is it because the market shares of News Corporation are beginning to drop through the floor? I'll let you decide.