The News of the World has finally hacked itself to death. The scandal sheet, which has been shoveling sleaze for 168 years, will have its printing press plug pulled by Rupert Murdoch this Sunday amid the biggest scandal to rock the tabloid press.
But don’t be fooled. Murdoch's dramatic move is nothing but a cynical, self-serving PR stunt that punishes the innocent while showing little conviction to really tame the tabloid culture.
In a time of economic uncertainty 200 staff in UK are now jobless, while the paper’s 22 full-time staff in Dublin have the dole to look forward to.
Shockingly, staff members in Ireland reportedly were informed by an email sent by Murdoch’s son James, chairman of News International. With such a display of cold ruthlessness, the paper’s editorial policy is surely of little surprise.
Staff members are the innocent victims in News International’s eager desire to press the ‘delete’ button and wish this phone hacking scandal away.
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The fact is those responsible were no longer employed by the paper, as they had been cleared out over the past number of years by Rebekah Wade, who edited the paper at the height of the scandal, in an attempt to clean up the tawdry tabloid.
Wade and other senior staff members who should bear the brunt of the fallout from the scandal remain key players in the News International organisation.
The innocent staff members who have now been kicked to the curb are simply scapegoats, as Murdoch tries to calm the waters and focus on his ultimate goal — the takeover of BSkyB, which awaits approval by the UK government.
The ultimate decision to close the paper was made by suits sitting in New York watching News International shares slide as advertisers distanced themselves from the tarnished tabloid.
However, The News of the World was already in terminal decline. It was making €5.6m a year when once it generated €67m and its circulation had fallen to 2.6 million. So, to kill it off was not the grand gesture Murdoch would have us all believe. Indeed, it is rumoured plans were already in place for the paper to eventually be replaced its sister paper The Sun, which would switch to a seven-day operation.
Murdoch knows well it was not a change of title that was needed, but a change of ethics. Axing the New of the World does little for the family of Milly Dowler, the wives of military men killed in Afghanistan nor the relatives of the London bombing victims.
If Murdoch was really interested in cleaning up tabloid culture he would have tried to transform the paper, set out a new charter of ethical guidelines and ensure full and transparent cooperation to ensure those ultimately responsible were exposed to the full rigours of the law.
The worry is that while phone hacking will no doubt became obsolete, the other dastardly tools the tabloids deploy to spin their sordid tales of scandal will still flourish once the drama dies down.
Indeed, we have the ridiculous situation of papers whose standards are no better wagging a disapproving finger at the News of the World while doing nothing to clean up their own acts.
So with this in mind let’s give a round of applause to the ironic headline of the week, The Daily Mail’s — “The paper that died of shame.” Coming from a newspaper that publishes shameful stories on a daily basis that is, as they say, rich.
Paul Allen, Managing Director of Paul Allen and Associates PR, www.prireland.com.