Rupert Murdoch has summoned back Rebekah Brooks to lead his newspaper business in its fight against the BBC and thumb his nose at those who criticised his and her conduct during the phone-hacking scandal.
The appointment of Ms Brooks as CEO of News UK (formerly News International) restores her to the role she quit in 2011, days after revelations that the company’s journalists hacked the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
Ms Brooks was cleared of involvement in intercepting voicemails at an Old Bailey trial last year but hacking victims were angered by her return. Jacqui Hames, a former police officer and Crimewatch presenter who was hacked by the News of the World, said: “It’s beyond parody and not the actions of a company with any willingness to put the past behind them. It’s just business as usual.”
The return of Ms Brooks coincided with the appointment of the former Daily Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher as the new editor of The Sun. Mr Gallagher, who leaves his role as joint deputy editor of the Daily Mail, is likely to bring the red top into greater competition with his former paper in dictating the wider news agenda, with greater interest in health and politics stories and a reduced obsession with reality television.
Ms Brooks' return is a clear indication of Rupert Murdoch’s continued influence at the top of his global empire, despite having stepped down as CEO of the entertainment arm 21st Century Fox in favour of his son James earlier this summer. James was Ms Brooks’s boss in London when the hacking scandal reached its peak and the pair had a chequered relationship. “This is totally Rupert’s decision,” said one News UK source. “Rupert has been obsessed with getting Rebekah back, he always has been.”
Ms Brooks’s return signalled the departure of New Zealander Mike Darcey, who had fallen out of favour with Rupert Murdoch following problems with the digital paywall strategy of The Sun, which he initiated. It is expected that The Sun will effectively bring down its paywall, placing it in direct competition with the BBC and other news sites. One of Mr Darcey’s final acts at News UK came n his role as chair of national press body the Newspaper Marketing Association, when he called this week for curbs on the BBC’s website.
The Sun will seek to mirror the Daily Mail in building a mass market website with a distinct editorial tone that does not undermine print circulation. The tabloid’s online coverage would have a greater appeal to younger readers.
The appointment of Ms Brooks contradicts the public relations narrative of News UK over the past two years, when it has stressed its desire to reform its culture through new editors, new senior executives, a new logo and even a new headquarters building. Evan Harris, executive director of press reform group Hacked Off, said Ms Brooks had revealed herself to be an “incompetent executive” who was “unaware of industrial-scale criminal wrongdoing”. He said: “This is the equivalent of the return to post of ten Fred Goodwins with a Gerald Ratner thrown in for good measure. Brooks’s reappointment is a major misjudgement of the national mood by a company still ethically out of control.”
The former Sun editor David Dinsmore, who is well-regarded by Rupert Murdoch, will become News UK’s chief operating officer, working alongside Ms Brooks.
News UK defended Ms Brooks’s appointment, describing her as a very successful journalist” and one of the few women chief executives in British business. The former Sun and News of the World editor said she was “delighted” to return. “It is a privilege to be back amongst the most talented journalists and executives in the business,” she said.Reuse content