In Rupert Murdoch's bunker, there is no room for sentiment

In Rupert Murdochs bunker, there is no room for sentiment Image

It did not take long for the saga at News Corporation to be given the full Downfall treatment online, with Rupert Murdoch as the flailing führer in the war film depicting Hitler's final hours. In the spoof, on YouTube, he sacrifices his beloved Eva Braun, aka Rebekah Brooks.

In real life, and in much more dramatic fashion, Murdoch sacrificed the troops at the News of the World.

The announcement that it would publish its last edition on Sunday left a shocked industry with many questions: how could the Murdochs close down a newspaper and sack its staff, perhaps 200 people, rather than jettison the chief executive in charge when a murdered girl's phone was hacked? And where does this leave Murdoch's son James, whose letter to staff admitted an astonishing level of culpability?

"This is just like the last days in the bunker," said Brian Cathcart, professor of journalism at Kingston University. "Their behaviour is completely unpredictable. To close down a 168-year-old newspaper rather than sack Brooks is simply extraordinary. It's impossible to think of any rationale."

The tears of Brooks, chief executive of News International and former NoW editor, as she told staff that there was no alternative but to close, failed to soften hearts; nor did her accusation it was the Guardian alone that had killed the venerable paper.

Few media analysts could comprehend the survival of Brooks, described by one as "the captain of the ship when it hit the iceberg". Two possible explanations were put forward: an emotional bond felt by Rupert Murdoch to the former editor; and that Brooks was still needed as a firewall. "If she goes, the next domino along is James, and that's a price Rupert's not prepared to pay," said Cathcart.

Given the time a public inquiry could be expected to take, this firewall role was not expected to last forever. The flimsiness of Brooks's excuse [of being on holiday], combined with video of her admission to parliament that her paper paid police officers in 2003, left few people betting on her survival at the group. Both Brooks and Murdoch had been accused of being part of a "criminal underworld" in parliament. Asked whether she should resign, the cabinet minister Chris Huhne told the Today programme: "Either they know what's going on, in which case the editor was complicit in some criminal activity, or they were extremely incompetent."

If business analysts felt Brooks had been fatally wounded, the verdict is entirely different for James Murdoch, despite a letter that admits to mistakes made in signing off the £1m payout to Gordon Taylor, a victim of hacking, without too many questions. "This is an attempt to show that News Corp in New York can take decisive action when illegality occurs," said Chris Goodall at Enders Analysis. "It's been done to clear the stables of the mess."

Strategically, the decision to close also bears the hallmarks of James rather than his father. Some believe it could be the moment the youngest son made his mark on the family firm. "He doesn't care about print. He'd close them all down tomorrow to save Sky."

But the decision is not an emotional one, as the younger Murdoch believes the group's future is in providing a platform with broadband, broadcast and telephony across Europe. A newspaper in the UK, though profitable and historic, means little, and will mean less when, as expected, he takes over from his octogenarian father. "The NoW represents pennies in a tin-can," said Goodall. The combined Sun and NoW make £40m a year compared with £6bn of Sky revenues.

The fact James took control of the mess is not universally seen as a good thing. Goodall suggests he is "not out of the woods". Former home secretary Alan Johnson asked if he may face jail under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) 2000. On BBC1's This Week, Johnson pointed to James Murdoch's statement he approved out-of-court settlements; as the MP said, this could place the News International chairman in breach of section 79 of Ripa under which a director of a company breaching the act "shall be guilty of that offence and liable to be (…) punished accordingly" – and NoW reporter Clive Goodman and investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed in 2007 under Ripa.

In Rupert Murdoch's bunker, there is no room for sentiment

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