News of the World remembered in the wake of spot-fixing verdict

Mohammad Asif was declared guilty in spot-fixing trial verdict given on Tuesday Getty Images

By Prasun Sonwalkar

London: Nov 2, 2011

Phone-hacking and Pakistan’s spot- fixing in cricket are two different rows, but many remember that ‘News of the World’, the UK tabloid of media baron Rupert Murdoch that broke the story through a sting operation, is no more.

Yesterday’s conviction in court of three Pakistan cricketers – Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif and Mohammad Amir – brought to a conclusion the story broken by the tabloid’s former investigations editor, Mazher Mahmood, who conducted the sting operation.

The 168-year-old tabloid, which was at one time Britain’s largest selling newspaper, closed down on July 7 in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.

It was accused of indulging in unethical news-gathering practices to secure information for use in sensational stories.

Its last issue reproduced the front pages of several major stories it broke over the years, including Mahmood’s sensational story of how aspects of the Lord’s Test were fixed by an agent who boasted of close links with the Pakistan team members.

Mahmood, who has several investigative stories to his credit, had posed during the sting operation as an Indian businessman with connection to an Asian betting ring.

The revelations during the sting led to charges against the three cricketers, which have now been proved.

The News of the World lost 104,300 pounds in cash that Mahmood paid to the agent at the centre of the Pakistan spot-fixing allegations, the court was told during the hearing, but the tabloid and its owner, Rupert Murdoch and his media empire, lost much more.

The phone-hacking imbroglio led to a raft of inquiries at various levels as well as forcing Murdoch to withdraw his bid to takeover BSkyB.

The row posed serious questions about the relationship between the press, politics and the police.

Stating that the Pakistan spot-fixing convictions vindicated the ‘News of the World’, Owen Gibson wrote in the Guardian: “(There) will be widespread acceptance that none of the frequently jaw-dropping allegations that eventually came to light in an ICC tribunal or a London courtroom would ever have been made public were it not for a newspaper that was closed down this year in the wake of widespread public revulsion over phone hacking”.

Reflecting the opinion of many, Owen wrote: The News of the World was arguably the only organisation with the means and the modus operandi to snare the perpetrators of a fix of the type that had long been suspected but never proved”.

Paul McCarthy, the newspaper’s former sports editor, said: “It’s a vindication of what the News of the World, post hacking, stood for. It was investigative journalism at its best. Its reputation has justifiably taken some hits over the last few months, but I would hate the paper to be only remembered in those terms”.

As Murdoch continues to face questions related to phone-hacking, many today remember the spunky tabloid that lifted the lid off the sordid world of betting and fixing in cricket, which were until recently widely talked about but never proved in court. (PTI)