Big questions for News International


The News of the World has been in circulation for 168 years

There are two big questions for James Murdoch, the chairman of News International, who tonight announced the closure of the News of the World.

The first is whether he sacrificed a business, and the career prospects of the News of the World's staff, to protect a particularly valued employee: Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International.

Presumably, no-one will think that he did that in a conscious, deliberate way.

But the sharpest critics of the malpractices at the News of the World, such as the Labour leader Ed Miliband, have been calling for her head.

None of those critics, to my knowledge, were demanding that the News of the World should be shut.

So it is at least plausible that if Rebekah Brooks had resigned in the past 24 hours, some of the popular and political fury towards News International and the News of the World would have been assuaged.

The second question is whether the closure of the News of the World will be seen by the media regulator, Ofcom, as making News Corporation, parent company of News International, a more or less fit-and-proper owner of British Sky Broadcasting, the UK's biggest television business (it is Ofcom's statutory duty to adjudicate on that important issue).

On the one hand, James Murdoch can say that the rot within his organisation has tonight been cut out.

On the other hand, he has admitted in a remarkable statement that he and his father Rupert Murdoch failed to identify that the News of the World's newsroom was out of control for many years.

And even when evidence started to emerge in 2006 that the News of the World was obtaining stories in illicit ways, it took four more years for News International to identify the extent of what went wrong.

So some will say that this long inability to get to grips with the malaise at the News of the World means that News Corporation, a sprawling global empire, needs to demonstrate that it can exercise rather closer and more diligent control over a business, British Sky Broadcasting, that is vastly bigger and more important to the cultural life of the UK than the News of the World.

Robert Peston Article written by Robert Peston Robert Peston Economics editor

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