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Britain's Biggest Selling Weekly Tabloid To Close Over Phone-Hacking Scandal


WASHINGTON -- The most popular weekly tabloid in Britain is set to close after its staff was discovered to have hacked into the voicemail of thousands of people -- including a child murder victim and family members of British soldiers killed in combat -- in the pursuit of sensationalistic stories.

The news that the 168-year-old "News of the World" will print its final copy on July 10 came as a shock to many observers, even though the last 24 hours saw many advertisers fleeing and readers and politicians alike condemning the tabloid for its unethical reporting techniques.

The announcement of the paper's planned demise came in a statement by James Murdoch, the head of the U.K. division of News Corporation International, which is owned by his father, 80-year-old Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

"Good things the 'News of the World' does...have been sullied by behavior that was wrong," the statement read. "Indeed, if recent allegations are true, it was inhuman and has no place in our company. The 'News of the World' is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself. This Sunday will be the last issue of the 'News of the World.'"

In an interview with Sky News, James Murdoch said he felt "regret" that "the practices of certain individuals did not live up to the standards and quality of journalism" that he said News Corps believes in.

"These allegations are shocking and hugely regrettable," Murdoch said, "and you know this is the way we all feel inside the company, not least of which the many, many journalists around the world who work at News Corporation who really, really believe in what they do and work very hard to do a good job for their readers."

The "News of the World" phone-hacking scandal stretches back to 2000 and involves accusations that in pursuit of headline grabbing stories, reporters broke into the voice mail of people ranging from a missing schoolgirl to grieving families, celebrities, crime victims, members of the royal family, and politicians.

Police say they are examining 4,000 names of people who may have been targeted.

The paper, which sells nearly 3 million copies of its weekly Sunday issue, has admitted in the past that it hacked into certain individuals' voice mails. A police investigation landed a reporter and a private investigator hired by the paper in jail in 2007.

In recent days the scandal, and the public's revulsion, has deepened with new revelations that the tabloid had hacked into the phone of 13-year-old murder victim Milly Dowler -- confusing police and giving false hope to her family -- as well as the phones of family members of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An online boycott petition attracted hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Graham Foulkes, whose son died in the July 7, 2005, bombing attack on the London Underground and bus system, told reporters from his home in Wales on July 6 that police had informed him that a private investigator hired by the newspaper had tracked down his name and phone number.

"During this investigation they'd come across a file with my name, my home address, my home landline and other phone numbers," Foulkes said. "And the police were letting me know that they'd found this file in the possession of a private investigator who had made all these alleged phone hackings into other people's calls."

Reaction to the news that the paper will close was swift. The head of Britain's Labour Party, Ed Miliband, told Sky News that widespread public disgust had left Rupert Murdoch, who bought the paper in 1969, with no choice.

"Well, it is clearly 'people power' that has forced this decision, the revulsion that people have felt about what has happened at the 'News of the World' and, indeed, the decisions that advertisers were then making," Miliband said.

Labour Party MP Tom Watson called the paper's end "a victory for decent people up and down the land," and added, "I say good riddance to the 'News of the World.'"

Speaking to Sky News, former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott characterized the paper's actions as criminal.

"The worst of all was going through the phones of people who have died, interfered with the evidence, altered the information," Prescott said. "That is major crimes which the public is showing their distaste [for], as are the advertisers, blaming particularly the 'News of the World' on this occasion."

Michelle Stanistreet, of the country's National Union of Journalists, said the announcement of the paper's closing was "an incredible shock." But she also criticized News Corp for putting "ordinary, working journalists" out of work instead of simply punishing executive Rebekah Brooks, who edited the paper from 2000-03, when some of the most serious infractions are alleged to have taken place, but who is now chief executive at News International, News Corporation's main U.K. subsidiary.

One "News of the World" employee told Reuters, "We didn't expect it at all. We had no indication. The last week has been tough...none of us have done anything wrong. We thought we were going to [survive the scandal]."

Speaking in the British Parliament's House of Commons before the paper's closure was announced, Prime Minister David Cameron had called for multiple inquiries into the hacking scandal -- including why the practice had continued after the police investigation.

He also said a look at "the behavior of individual people and individual media organizations" and "media practices and ethics in this country" was needed.

"We do need to have an inquiry -- possibly inquiries -- into what has happened," Cameron said. "Let us be clear: We are no longer talking here about politicians and celebrities; we are talking about murder victims, potentially terrorism victims, having their phones hacked into. It is absolutely disgusting what has taken place."

The British government has said it played no role in the decision to shut down "News of the World."

written by Heather Maher based on agency reports