LONDON, Feb 18 – Britain’s newspapers were abuzz on Saturday over Rupert Murdoch’s announcement that he is to launch a Sunday version of his top-selling British tabloid The Sun.
The 2.5 million-circulation Sun carried the front-page message, “Coming soon: The Sun every Sunday.”
Several rivals showed the media tycoon beaming and brandishing a copy of The Sun as he was chauffeured towards the scandal-hit tabloid’s offices in east London on Friday for a morale-boosting visit.
The tabloid has been rocked by the arrest of several senior reporters over claims that journalists paid police and other public officials for information.
Murdoch shut the News of the World, a Sunday tabloid, last July over a phone-hacking scandal, which has spawned three police probes and a government-ordered inquiry into the standards of the British press.
But on Friday, the 80-year-old founder and chairman of the US-based News Corp. announced that the suspensions of ten arrested Sun journalists would be lifted — and that the tabloid would gain a Sunday edition.
“Rupert Murdoch looked as if he had no hand to play,” Roy Greenslade blogged on the Guardian website. “But the old gambler came up trumps by producing a couple of surprise cards from his sleeve.
“By cancelling the suspensions of the arrested Sun journalists he will have quelled the rebellion in the ranks.
“And by pledging to launch the Sun on Sunday he will have given the staff a sense of a long-term commitment to the paper and his UK empire.”
Ian Burrell of The Independent agreed that the move was a gamble, but probably a shrewd one.
“The launch of the paper will enable News International (Murdoch’s British newspaper wing) to take advantage of the lift in advertising revenues that will come ahead of the opening of the London Olympics in July,” he wrote.
In the Murdoch-owned Times, Ben Webster wondered how many of the News of the World’s 2.7 million readers would buy the new tabloid.
“The Sun on Sunday will launch into a rapidly contracting market for printed newspapers,” he warned.
The Times said the first edition could hit newsstands “within weeks, in good time to capitalise on the sales boost resulting from the Euro 2012 football competition starting on June 8”.
Several newspapers dwelled on the surprise appearance of Murdoch’s eldest son Lachlan, formerly News Corp’s New York-based deputy chief operating officer, in The Sun’s newsroom with his father.
The Guardian described Lachlan’s presence as “eye-popping” given that his brother James, the former chief executive of News International, is still chairman of the company.
In the Guardian, meanwhile, Marina Hyde speculated that the bold decision could have an invigorating effect on the octogenarian tycoon.
“The amateur physiologist in me suspects that this late-surge energy rush will add years to Murdoch’s life,” she mused.