LONDON — In a stunning move, Rupert Murdoch's media empire announced Thursday it was shutting down the News of the World tabloid, Britain's bestselling Sunday newspaper, because of an alleged phone hacking scandal that has triggered a major public backlash here.
James Murdoch, a senior executive at his father's News Corp., said Sunday's edition of the News of the World would be its last. In a statement, he said the company accepted responsibility for the distress inflicted by the phone hacking allegations and the paper's breach of journalistic ethics.
"The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account," the statement said, "but it failed when it came to itself."
The statement acknowledged the gravity of allegations that the paper hacked into the cellphones of celebrities, politicians and even crime and military combat victims in its pursuit of scoops. Earlier this week, Britain was rocked by reports that a private investigator hired by the tabloid had illegally accessed — and deleted — voicemail messages on the phone of a 13-year-old girl who was kidnapped and later found murdered.
Such a practice, if it occurred, "was inhuman and has no place in our company," the statement said — in effect concurring with an outpouring of public outrage over the reports that has swept the nation.
The closure will mean the death of a weekly newspaper that has been a part of the British media landscape for more than a century. The News of the World enjoys a circulation of more than 2.5 million, far beyond its closest rival.
But the elder Murdoch and News Corp. evidently felt that the hacking scandal had created too toxic of an environment for the company and that the News of the World had to be sacrificed.
News Corp.'s British subsidiary, News International, also owns other iconic publications, such as the Times of London and the Sun tabloid, which have been caught up in a boycott campaign by Facebook and Twitter users angered by the allegations surrounding the News of the World.
The scandal has thrown into question Murdoch's attempt to gain control of British satellite broadcaster BSkyB, a takeover bid now under consideration by the British government.
A number of advertisers have also withdrawn their business from the News of the World as a result of mounting accusations that the tabloid may also have hacked into the cellphones of relatives of terrorist attack victims and British soldiers killed in combat.
On Thursday, the British Legion, a socially and politically powerful veterans' organization, announced that it too was cutting its ties to the tabloid.
The closure of the paper caught many in London by surprise, including, apparently, some of its own employees. Even after the announcement by James Murdoch, the News of the World's website was offering a four-week free trial subscription.
The statement by James Murdoch said that all proceeds from Sunday's final edition of the News of the World would be donated to worthy causes.
Later, News International announced that the closing would result in 200 tabloid staffers losing their jobs, the Associated Press reported. A company spokeswoman said that those laid off can apply for other jobs in the media firm.
Whether the drastic step to shut down the paper will dampen public anger remains to be seen. Many politicians are demanding the resignation of Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International and the editor of the News of the World at the time of the alleged hacking into the teenage kidnap victim.
Brooks is one of Rupert Murdoch's closest confidants and has so far insisted that she will stay on to get to the bottom of the hacking scandal.