Murdoch's smug insiders club
Emily Hohler May 04, 2012
Until recently, our political leaders “jostled with each other for the right to eat out of Rupert Murdoch’s hand”, says The Guardian. This week a parliamentary committee concluded he was “not fit” to run his global empire and exhibited a “wilful blindness” about what was going on in his companies. Troublingly, the split was “strictly along party lines”, says The Independent.
All five Tories voted against the “fit person” amendment; the five Labour members and single Liberal Democrat voted in favour. After David Cameron’s summons to parliament over the “inappropriate” contact between his culture secretary’s office and News Corp, this “only adds to the sense of a political establishment struggling to take an independent line”.
In a few short months, the Leveson Inquiry has moved on from phone hacking to the wider story of relations between the Tory-led government and the Murdoch empire (though David Cameron denies a ‘grand deal’ with Murdoch), and the wider issues of the relationship between the media and politicians, says Jackie Ashley in The Guardian.
“Once proprietors are dealing in a regular, close way with prime ministers”, their papers are “less likely to challenge power”; and if the media is a “smug insiders’ club”, it is impossible to have “challenging, campaigning” politics. Margaret Thatcher’s secret meeting with Murdoch ahead of his 1981 takeover of The Times and Sunday Times set a “powerful precedent”. Blair, Brown and Cameron followed in her footsteps and we are now reaping the consequences.
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Actually, Thatcher’s dealings with Murdoch were different, says Charles Moore in The Daily Telegraph. She could encourage Murdoch’s investment in this country “without much queasiness” because their aims, such as a desire for curbs on the unions, coincided. Her successors were “swayed chiefly by fear”. Tony Blair calculated that he “could not get to No. 10 without him”.
In 2005, Cameron acknowledged that if the Murdoch press “set out to trash” them, the Tories would “never get off the ground” – and that bad press might follow if they stood in the way of News Corps’ takeover of BSkyB. They were probably right. However, now people may conclude that politicians shouldn’t have close contact with the media. Yet Britain cannot be run properly if the government does not “know the people with whom they need to deal”.
Murdoch has “consistently and wilfully” undermined democracy in pursuit of profit and power for more than 30 years, says David Puttnam in The Observer. It was clear from the outset that the power that would accrue to News Corp as a result of its bid for BSkyB was likely to ensure the “eventual emasculation of ‘free to air’ public service broadcasting”. Media diversity is not, and “never can be, a natural ‘byproduct’ of unregulated market forces… it’s the responsibility of public policy”. Particularly given the way we are headed, says The Times. “Far nastier things are already said online than are permitted in print.”
Murdoch forecasts the demise of print journalism within 20 years. The task for the Leveson Inquiry is “how to regulate, not for the mistakes of the past, but for the media of the future”.
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