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News of the Screwed

It’s official, then. The oldest British red-top tabloid by far, the News of the World, is to cease publishing after 168 years:

News of the World: Murdoch closes the News of the World

The announcement caused a considerable surprise – it was generally expected that the Murdochs would identify a sacrificial lamb, but the most likely candidate had been thought to be Rebekah Brooks, editor of the NotW at the time when its staff first started routinely intercepting mobile phone messages in pursuit of stories.

On further reflection, though, it’s perhaps not so very surprising. After all, Brooks has (however implausibly) denied all knowledge of the phone-hacking activities and has been a loyal servant of the Murdoch empire.

Ditching the tainted NotW brand may help smooth the path to the full takeover of BSkyB that the Murdochs are anxious to push through. And moves were already afoot to ease a switch to seven-day publishing at News International, even before the latest disgusting revelations about the hacking of the voicemail boxes of murder victim Milly Dowler and the relatives of service personnel killed in Afghanistan.

So we can expect to see a Sunday edition of The Sun in the not-too-distant future (even though it won’t be called the Sunday Sun).

All in all, then, the last paragraph of James Murdoch’s statement rings very hollow indeed:

You may see these changes as a price loyal staff at the News of the World are paying for the transgressions of others. So please hear me when I say that your good work is a credit to journalism. I do not want the legitimacy of what you do to be compromised by acts of others. I want all journalism at News International to be beyond reproach. I insist that this organisation lives up to the standard of behaviour we expect of others. And, finally, I want you all to know that it is critical that the integrity of every journalist who has played fairly is restored.

Handing out P45s to staff who had nothing at all to do with this tawdry business seems like a pretty odd way of restoring their integrity. If anything, it makes them look as if they were just as much compromised as the people behind it all. This is no cleansing of the Augean stables. It’s a smokescreen for a cost-cutting exercise.

As one pithy tweet had it, “Brooks or NotW? Murdoch’s ditched the wrong red top.”