News Of The World to close, George Michael throws in an allegation

By | Published on Friday 8 July 2011


As you may have noticed, this week especially, we’ve not been covering the long running News Of The World phone hacking scandal, it falling slightly outside our remit to cover developments in the music media, and there being a slightly strange lack of pop stars on the ‘list of the hacked’ (well, the list as has been made public). But now that an entire newspaper is shutting as a result of the scandal it’s probably worth giving it a mention. Plus good old George Michael has weighed into the debate about the methods of the tabloid press, thus making this legitimate music news. Hurrah.

As you all surely know already, yesterday News International, the British newspaper subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, announced it was shutting the News Of The World after a splurge of allegations regarding the bribing of police officers and the hacking of voicemail accounts by journalists and investigators employed or contracted by the paper.

The dodgy dealings took place over a number of years, up until the prosecution and subsequent jailing of a NOTW reporter and contractor in 2006/7, under the editorships of now News International CEO Rebekah Brooks and former chief spin doctor for the Tories, Andy Coulson.

The story, which has been ongoing ever since those 2006 allegations (though mainly in the pages of Private Eye and The Guardian), escalated in recent months as News International’s freakin obvious lie that phone hacking was only ever undertaken by the one reporter and private investigator jailed in 2007, started to unwind.

Things stepped up a gear this week once it emerged that voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, and of family members of various dead soldiers and 7/7 victims, had also been hacked. As the story went global, News Corp’s share price tumbled, advertisers pulled out of the offending tabloid, parliament debated the matter in depth, and the whole thing threatened to delay the media giant’s previously reported bid to buy BSkyB outright.

It didn’t help that News International then sent out the most incompetent spokesperson in the world to bumble his way through interviews with broadcast media where the main question of the day was: as Brooks was editor of the News Of The World when some of the worse acts of phone hacking allegedly occurred, and given she was clearly involved in the obvious post-2006 cover up, why hasn’t she resigned yet? PR man Simon Greenberg insisted that the best person to investigate alleged failings by Brooks was clearly, erm Brooks. A statement from Rupert Murdoch himself said the same. But pretty much no one else – with perhaps the exception of Brooks’ mates in government – concurred.

With things now burning out of control, the younger Murdoch, Jimmy – who himself was involved in the aforementioned cover up, and who signed cheques for hundreds of thousands of pounds to celebs who said they had evidence to expose it – was sent in to execute a bold move. And so, yesterday afternoon, the 168 year old News Of The World was shut down. This Sunday’s advertising-free edition will be the last, with all profits going to charity, and much of the paper’s current editorial team – nearly all of whom joined after 2006 – are facing redundancy.

Everyone now expects the News Of The World to be replaced by a Sunday edition of sister title The Sun, which has so far managed to stay more or less untarnished by the dodgy tactics scandal. Indeed moves were already underway to integrate the two titles anyway. Though whether the axing of the NOTW will reduce the pressure currently on News International and its parent company remains to be seen.

Many reckon not while Brooks – the woman who allegedly, and possibly unknowingly, led the Sunday tabloid into such shady waters in a desperate bid to score a few more scoops to combat readership and profit decline – remains in her job. Meanwhile, with the aforementioned Coulson due to be arrested in relation to his involvement later today, more revelations of dodgy dealings likely to be revealed, the ongoing police inquiry and two public inquiries still to report, and the probable collapse of the Press Complaints Commission (which completely bought into the ‘one rogue reporter’ lies), all still to come, this story clearly has more mileage.

But you knew all that. What about George? Well, he took to Twitter last night to welcome the collapse of the News Of The World, and then threw his own allegation into the mix. The deeper story here, really, is the relationship between the wider News International organisation and the Metropolitan Police, who totally screwed up the 2006 investigation into the News Of The World’s illegal operations, possibly deliberately. Brooks has been somewhat inconsistent with regards her comments on the relationship between her papers and the police but, George Michael claims, she once told him corrupt police officers are one of the red tops’ best sources of stories.

Michael tweeted thus: “Rebekah Brooks sat two feet from me in my own home and told me that it was never the public that came to them with information on celebrities, and that the police always got there first. Don’t ask me how she got there. Believe me, I didn’t invite her!”

For music and especially celebrity PRs, the closure of the News Of The World is a double edged sword. On one level, no more Saturday afternoon phone calls looking for a quote to go alongside tomorrow’s exposé of one of your clients. But on another level, the biggest Sunday newspaper, with its significant readership – always more diverse than that of The Sun – is gone.