The Murdoch Empire: How media shapes society
The Corbett Report
20 July, 2011
The scandal enveloping Rupert Mudoch’s beleaguered News Corporation mounts this week as revelations continue to emerge about the widespread use of phone hacking, pinging, and other illegal techniques by Murdoch-connected journalists.
In a breathtaking two weeks, the scandal has so far seen the formation of a parliamentary inquiry into the affair, the folding of the 168-year-old News of the World, the withdrawal of Murdoch’s bid for ownership of BskyB, the resignations of the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police as well as Wall Street Journal publisher CEO Les Hinton and News International CEO Rebekah Brooks, the arrest of Brooks on suspicion of involvement in the illegal hacking along with Andy Coulson, the British Prime Minister’s former communications director, and, in one of the latest developments, the death of Sean Hoare, the first journalist to allege that Coulson had encouraged his staff to engage in phone hacking during his tenure as News of the World editor.
The rapidity with which the scandal has eaten through to the very heart of the unholy alliance between the British press, police and government has taken nearly everyone by surprise, even those who already knew of the existence of that alliance in the first place. Now, the incredible influence that Rupert Murdoch has wielded over the British political establishment, a topic that until this month was conspicuously absent from discussions of the British electoral process, is being openly talked about on every major television network not currently owned by Murdoch himself.
Despite the faux-shock with which the mainstream media seems to be “discovering” the extent of Murdoch’s political clout, the facts about News Corporation’s ownership of a bewildering number of media outlets around the world has been a matter of public record for some time. Nor should the idea that Murdoch uses his political influence to shape public policy come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the admissions from his broadcasting networks and from Murdoch himself that this is precisely what he has been attempting to do.
The problem of the convergence of media and politics, while brought to the forefront by the Murdoch scandal, is by no means limited to News Corporation or its subsidiaries.
In Japan, the existence of the so-called kisha clubs, where establishment journalists are given exclusive access to political deliberations in exchange for favourable coverage, has long been lamented as a mechanism by which political scandals are controlled and the public is kept in the dark about critical information. The Japan Times ran a story this past May on how the press clubs have insured softball coverage of the Fukushima crisis for TEPCO and the Japanese government. The article reveals the remarkable fact that not one single press club reporter asked TEPCO whether they had detected a plutonium leak from reactor 3 during the first two and a half weeks of the crisis. When they were finally asked the question by freelance journalist Takashi Uesugi, their response was that they didn’t have a detector to check for such a leak.
In the US, the New York Times famously sat on the story of President Bush’s illegal wiretapping story at the request of the White House for over a year, not running the story until 2005, after Bush had been re-elected for a second term as president.
Later that same year, it was revealed the Bush White House was producing videos about the government that were designed to look like news reports from legitimate independent journalists, and then feeding those reports to media outlets as prepackaged material ready to air on the evening news. When the Government Accountability Office ruled that these fake news reports in fact constituted illegal covert propaganda, the White House merely issued a memo declaring the practice to be legal.
Despite all of these instances of overt political manipulation via the press, the issue of the relationship between government and the media has always been studiously avoided in the corporate media. But now, perhaps smelling the blood of their biggest media rival, the question of how much political clout is too much for a media magnate is being asked on all of the major news networks.
Earlier this week, I talked to Russ Baker, the award-winning journalist behind the book Family of Secrets and the founder of independent investigative journalism website WhoWhatWhy.com, about the Murdoch scandal and its wider implications. I asked him about the power invested in Murdoch’s consolidation of media power, and how he has wielded that influence in shaping society.
Some are now citing the consolidation of media under the News Corporation banner as the reason for these abuses of power.
Labour leader Ed Miliband, who has been scoring political points by appearing to go on the attack over the apparent collusion between the tabloids, the Met and 10 Downing Street, said earlier this week:
“I think that we’ve got to look at the situation whereby one person can own more than 20% of the newspaper market, the Sky platform and Sky News,” warning that “If you want to minimize the abuses of power then that kind of concentration of power is frankly quite dangerous.”
Others, however, point to the paradox of attempts to legislate against these abuses of power by the very politicians accused in the ongoing scandal. Rather than broad legislation of the media industry, legislation that runs the risk of censoring and stifling the freedom of the press, these critics argue that we should concentrate on those who can be shown to have broken the law and to prosecute them to the fullest extent.
Last week The Corbett Report talked to Kristina Borjesson, an award-winning former producer for CBS, CNN and PBS who has edited two books of media criticism. We addressed the topic of media consolidation and whether that really represents the central issue revealed by the Murdoch scandal.
Although we are still in the very early stages of this affair and there is no doubt much more fallout to come as the revelations of widespread corruption in the corridors of power continue to emerge, what this story has already amply demonstrated is the suffering that organized criminal conspiracies can inflict when an institution that is designed to defend the public from abuses of power instead subjects that public to those abuses.
Ultimately, the real victims of these power politics and dirty tricks should not be forgotten: the family of Milly Dowler and David Foulkes and the 9/11 victims families and all those other innocent bystanders who happened to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, victims not only of the initial, unthinkable tragedy of the death of a loved one, but then violated again by the tabloid reporters and police officers, corporate executives and politicians who conspired in the harvesting of their personal information against their will and against the law.
Truly, in this case, the power of the media to commit evil is laid bare, a power with which Rupert Murdoch himself is all too familiar.