Media, Murdoch and politics.

Back in 1998 I wrote my Masters thesis on the effect that Rupert Murdoch has played on both the British Media and British politics. Although his influence is far wider than these shores I only had about 20 thousand words so needed some way of limiting the amount of information and even then I feel that there just wasn’t enough space available to really cover in sufficient detail to really understand the depths to which this man’s influence has gone.

 

The thesis ended with asking the question what next for Rupert Murdoch. At the time he was nearly 70 years of age and had two failed marriages (update: can add a third to that), he’d just started his expansion into Asia, start up an interactive shopping channel and attempted to buy Manchester United (who’d never sell to a ‘foreign’ businessman right?) Also, importantly, he had a new friend in Number 10 in the form of a, still quite new, Prime Minister Tony Blair who a few years previously had visited Murdoch in Australia and given a key-note speech to several News International Executives during their annual conference. For me the story stopped there for a while. I handed the thesis in, passed, got a job and sort of forgot the passion which had led me to write so many words in the first place. Until now. The News of the World story reminded me just what sort of influence the press can play on our lives. The news items are shaped to the whim of the politics of the editor and/or proprietor of the paper. There is always more than meets the eye with any particular story. Don’t misunderstand me. I truly believe that a free, open, press reporting on the news items of the day is a good thing. It keeps people informed and can help keep politicians honest. However when the medium for reporting the story becomes the story then something has gone wrong with the process. In 1993 David Mellor, in reference to self-regulation of the media, said that the British press where drinking “at the last chance saloon”. If that was the last chance then the actions of the NotW are like the drunk at a party going around finishing off the dregs of everyone else’s drinks. It’s quite possible that any inquiry into the News of the World will have serious repercussions for the rest of the media. There are a number of questions I have at the moment:

  1. How can the News of the World possibly justify tapping into the phone records of private, ordinary people (not politicians or even executives of large businesses but ordinary members of the public)
  2. Why did Murdoch close the paper? Sure there was a lot wrong with the culture of the NotW but, love it or loath it, it made Murdoch a shed load of money in terms of circulation and advertising revenue.
  3. Why had Rebekah Brooks still got a job? Surely any editor who either sanctions, or is ignorant, of such perversions of justice should carry some responsibility. How important is she to Murdoch’s empire that he would rather close a paper than fire her?
  4. What will the political fall out of this be? Every day there are new allegations about Coulson and Cameron, when/how will it all end?
  5. What other information do we not yet know?
  6. What effect will the inquiry when/if it happens have on the British press? Has the last chance saloon finally closed it’s doors?

I don’t have answers for these questions (yet) but it will be interesting to find out the answers. Perhaps it’s time to dust off and update that thesis.

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One comment

  1. It’s hardly fair adding a comment after so much more has happened since the piece was written, but it’s worth a quick refresh. Murdoch continues and continues to threaten politicians and ministers in a frighteningly brazen manner. Whilst Thatcher was clearly a friend of Murdoch, and her successor wasn’t, Blair tried to ride the tiger without giving away too much. Brown was not a friend – though he tried to appease the beast without giving up on principles – and Cameron is afraid and willing to give up anything as long as he isn’t hampered by public backlash.The sordid way project Rubicon was handled by Hunt is textbook material; you allocate the title of the chapter!

    Now we know that the News of the World was closed in an attempt to rescue Rubicon (take over of SkyBSB) and to introduce a cheaper seven day Sun. And there are large elements of the corrupt (and corrupting) section of the Press that still insist that it was all due to lies printed by The Guardian. Clear reading shows that the minor, mostly irrelevant, honestly and correctly reported, quickly and fully corrected, statement by The Guardian had no effect on the closure of the News of the World, was dwarfed by the undoubted harm done by the News of the World reporters and management – and may well be 100% true. But there is no difficulty in getting senior ‘Fleet Street’ people to repeat their lies against The Guardian. It’s by no means just Murdoch responsible – but that’s where it all started, and with decidedly unethical if not illegal agreements with Thatcher.

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