Faced with a rapidly snowballing phone-hacking scandal, parent company News Corp. has announced that it will shutter its News of the World newspaper, a longtime cash cow and Britain's top-selling Sunday newspaper. James Murdoch, head of the News International division that includes the company's U.K. papers, told staff that recently revealed actions by the paper — including the hacking of phones of murder victims and the families of deceased soldiers — were "inhuman."
The closing of the 168-year-old paper comes as News Corp. is seeking a politically loaded approval from government regulators over its purchase of the remainder of U.K. satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
"The cynic in me suggests that this is a ploy to take the pressure off the BSkyB merger and that when that is out of the way something will rise from the ashes," Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders told Reuters.
According to the Guardian, there are already rumors in London that its sister publication, the daily Sun tabloid, might start a Sunday edition and attempt to scoop up the lost weekly NotW audience. U.K. papers have recently been moving toward merging their weekly and Sunday newsrooms and other operations, so such a plan may have already been in the works before the scandal deepened. The domain name thesunonsunday.co.uk was registered two days ago, and reports on Twitter suggest that NotW's ad-sales team has been retained.
Update: The Guardian reports that former NOTW editor Andy Coulson, who was forced to resign as Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman when the scandal deepened in January, has been told he will be arrested on Friday.
The closing of News Corp.'s treasured tabloid is a pivotal moment for James Murdoch, widely perceived to be the leading candidate to succeed his father, Rupert. But the closure of NotW may not be the end of legal difficulties for him and the rest of the company. He noted in his statement that the company wrongly told Parliament that the issues were confined to one reporter, and that "those who acted wrongly will have to face the consequences."
"The Company paid out-of-court settlements approved by me. I now know that I did not have a complete picture when I did so," he added. "This was wrong and is a matter of serious regret."
Note that James admitted to approving out-of-court settlements. Looks like the tentacles of this ever-growing scandal might actually reach the Murdoch family itself.
News of the World to close on Sunday - live coverage [Guardian UK]
This post has been updated with additional information.