TERRY FIELD/Guest Columnist
It seems apropos news czar Rupert Murdoch has closed down News of the World, the top scandal sheet in his news empire, in response to the scandal over the newspaper’s unethical and arguably illegal news gathering practices. While the suddenness of the mercurial Murdoch’s decision surprised just about everyone, on reflection it shouldn’t have.
Several News of the World editors stand accused of using wiretaps and computer hackers to dig dirt out of celebrity email accounts and voice messaging systems, and more recently, to gather information on victims of serious crimes and listen to phone conversations of families of soldiers killed in combat.
News of the World had been in business since the mid-1800s and in Murdoch’s hands for the last 40-plus years. In that time, it has faced more than an occasional libel charge and numerous complaints to Britain’s news watchdog agency.
News of the World was highly successful, but still a small element of Murdoch’s media business. News Corp. controls dozens of publications, Fox TV, and a range of specialized programming and websites. The scandal may yet have a negative and long-term impact on the parent company, which is closely linked with its 80-year-old love-him-or-hate-him chief executive.
In the old days, Murdoch would likely have soldiered on and used the scandal to generate more reader interest. You can almost picture a brand new editorial staff at News of the World writing nasty front page headlines about the disgraced former staff. But, with big media in a battle for profits, Murdoch instead chose to wrap himself in a cloak of journalistic contrition. Saying the alleged actions of the editors were disgraceful, his son, James, apologized and then closed down the newspaper.
Scandal sheet culture
Faced with a rapidly deteriorating situation, Murdoch tried to change the storyline from scandal to leadership. But having promoted and supported the tabloid newspaper’s scandal-focused news gathering methods for more than 40 years, Murdoch’s apology and actions lack credibility. One could argue that the News of the World culture Murdoch encouraged and cultivated in a sense allowed some of its editors to allegedly cross the line from crass and unethical to criminal and illegal.
Murdoch’s sudden concern for journalistic integrity should be dismissed for what it is — an effort to deflect attention away from the scandal that could drag down a major media company.
—Terry Field is an associate professor in journalism and chair of the journalism major in the bachelor of communication program at Mount Royal University in Calgary.