So that’s it, then. A 168-year-old newspaper has been closed and more than 200 jobs will be lost over the phone-hacking scandal. Those that generated the scandal in the first place – by approving and committing the acts – remain in post. That much, we know.
We know that politicians who have spent years grovelling at the altar of Murdoch now line up to stick the boot in.
It looks like a seven-day Sun will replace the News of the World. But we do not yet know how this will affect the News International takeover of BSkyB. Indeed, the working theory is that the paper has been closed to protect that move.
What we can discern is that if Vince Cable hadn’t opened his trap to the Telegraph undercover journalists last year, it would have been him presiding over the decision to permit (or not) that takeover, not Jeremy Hunt. He might not have won his ‘war on Rupert Murdoch’ outright, but could have scored some significant battles. Instead, the decision falls to a far more sympathetic Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who has opted to spend the evening not discussing the fate of a major part of the country’s media, but glad-handing at the Harry Potter premiere.
So what now? Ed Miliband will be feeling quite smug tonight – he’s scored a hit against News International, in a week where his handling of the phone-hacking row was perceived to be far superior to his reaction to last week’s strikes. A major battle won – a scalp claimed. His leadership safe, perhaps?
Perhaps not. The reason politicians went grovelling to the Sun was that they didn’t not want to make an enemy of it – they remember that 1992 front page and they don’t want it to be their face in the lightbulb at the next election. If Miliband does claim a victory today, they’ll do what they can to stop him claiming a far more important one in 2015.
Unless. Rival titles may well scent blood at this time, especially as Rebekah Brooks – the then editor who presided over the phone-hacking – is still in position at News International and the Murdoch empire has acted to save its own skin. If it can pull the plug on the News of the World – as it did on the unprofitable Today newspaper 16 years ago – then don’t expect it to be sentimental about the Super Soaraway if it ends up becoming the story. Moreover, there are inquiries into the whole phone-hacking culture on the way. This is going to get uglier before it lets up.
One last thing: the Sun dominates the tabloid market in England, but in Scotland the picture is clouded by the presence of the Daily Record, whose circulation the Sun has only recently overtaken. Moreover, the football season in Scotland begins far earlier than in England: on 23 July. And Sunday tabloids love their football coverage, going out of their way to promote it in the hope that it will reel the punters in.
That means the Sun has two weeks to get a seven-day edition out. Otherwise, the Record’s sister paper, the Sunday Mail, has the field to itself, and can grab the NotW’s Scottish readership on the first weekend of the new season. If the Record’s managers are smart, that edition of the Sunday Mail will be packed to the gills will offers for the weekday paper.
So this might not have that much impact in the long run in England: the Sun might soldier on for seven days a week, preparing for vengeance against Ed Miliband, Chris Bryant and Tom Watson. But in Scotland, this could turn the tide in the War of the Tabloids. Could the Record, in decline for years, its journalism (at least, in the political column) getting ever more ludicrous and detached from reality in its attempts to defend Scottish Labour, and itself having to shed 90 jobs to keep going, have the last laugh over everyone?
We shall see.