The World from Berlin 'British Journalists Bend the Truth, Plagiarize Competitors and Break Laws'
News International has decided to close the 168-year-old tabloid News of the World in response to a phone-hacking scandal at the newspaper. German commentators say the affair reveals just how murky the world of British journalism is.
It was a sentence that sent shock waves through the international world of media: "This Sunday will be the last issue of the News of the World."
The announcement was part of a statement by James Murdoch, the son of Rupert Murdoch and CEO of News Corporation Europe, that was read out to News of the World staff on Thursday afternoon. There will be no commercial advertisements in the paper's final issue, and any advertising space will be donated to charity, Murdoch said in his statement.
The shock decision to close the 168-year-old newspaper came after a week of revelations about a phone-hacking scandal that have put the paper's owner News International -- a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation -- under increasing pressure.
On Friday, Prime Minister David Cameron promised to hold two investigations into goings-on at the News of the World and into future media regulation. Also on Friday, Andy Coulson, the former editor in chief of the newspaper who later became Cameron's communications chief, was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications and corruption.
The tabloid, which is said to have the most readers of any English-language newspaper, is accused of hacking into phone messages belonging to crime victims, families of dead soldiers, celebrities and politicians. As many as 4,000 possible targets have been identified by police. It is also accused of paying police for information.
The affair began in 2006, when the first revelations of phone hacking emerged. In 2007, a News of the World editor and a private investigator received prison sentences for hacking phones belonging to aides of the royal family.
The scandal heated up this week when the Guardian reported that the News of the World had hacked into a phone belonging to a missing schoolgirl and deleted some voicemail messages. Later in the week, it emerged that journalists from the newspaper had allegedly also targeted phones belonging to families of abducted children, relatives of victims of the July 7, 2005 London terror attacks and relatives of British soldiers who had died in Afghanistan.
The revelations prompted a wave of outrage against the newspaper, including angry readers' letters and Internet calls to boycott the tabloid. Pressure increased over the course of the week, with the government promising an inquiry into the allegations and major companies, including Ford, Virgin and Sainsbury's, announcing they would no longer advertise in the newspaper.
Many observers felt that Thursday's decision to close the newspaper was a smart move on the part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. There were fears that the scandal could potentially derail a much bigger deal involving the group's bid to purchase the portion of satellite broadcaster BSkyB that it doesn't already own. By taking decisive action on the News of the World affair, the media giant may be trying to overcome potential resistance to the deal from the British government, which needs to approve the takeover.
On Friday, German commentators take a look at the scandal.
SPIEGEL ONLINE's London correspondent, Carsten Volkery, writes:
"The closure of the newspaper is a huge loss of face for the country's most powerful media group, which also publishes the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times. For years, the group had believed it would somehow be able to suppress the wiretapping scandal that had been simmering since 2006. Prominent victims were paid hush money totaling millions. But the publisher had to admit more and more and keep backpedaling, including making a public apology."
"But it does not seem that the group's nightmare will end any time soon. Scotland Yard's investigations are continuing, and new revelations are certain to come."
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"Murdoch's decision is surprising and unprecedented, but unavoidable. After all, the scandal could have pulled his entire corporation into the abyss."
"But the drastic step goes well beyond Murdoch's empire. It is an admission that criminal research methods can no longer be fobbed off as isolated incidents. British journalists -- far more than German journalists -- bend the truth, plagiarize competitors and break laws to get a story that sells. Instead of condemning such bad behavior, reporters' bosses have publicly defended them. This gives them strength, while they use the argument that everyone else is doing it too."
"It would be naïve to believe that the demise of the News of the World will be a lesson to the British press. Other tabloid papers will only court Murdoch's old customers with similar stories and methods. As long as papers believe they can increase circulation with immoral tactics, they will continue to do so. It's up to the readers to show publishers what kind of journalism they want."
Conservative Die Welt writes:
"The scandal has reached parliament, and the government has given the green light for an investigation. It was long overdue. This isn't just about individual crimes. This is about the reputation of a political system in which the borders between business, the state and government threaten to become blurred. Now it's time to consider the common good, in particular the protection of citizens from the excesses of commercial profit grubbing."
"Just a few years after the failure of parliamentary and state oversight of the financial markets (during the financial crisis), the British parliamentarians must now ask themselves how seriously they take the abuse of economic power. If it comes out that Murdoch's arm reaches deep into the British government, 'Murdochgate' could very quickly turn into 'Parliamentgate.'"
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"All British governments function according to the same reflex: They all want to curry favor with Murdoch and his newspapers. When the tycoon lends his support to the opposition camp, then many people in Britain interpret this as a demand for a change in government."
"There is a trivial motive behind Murdoch's behavior, his market power and his coarse desire for political influence. Murdoch, a despised and unwanted interloper in the British media landscape, yearns for respect and puts the fear of God (into others). Murdoch wants a bigger role in the apparatus of government than is appropriate for a newspaper publisher. Under a feeling of invulnerability, a culture of lawlessness thrived in his company, where his staff did not even shrink from gambling with the fate of abducted children. The British political establishment tolerated this state of affairs -- and will now have to pay the price."
-- David Gordon Smith and Kristen Allen
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2011
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH