If it can be said that there is one lord of world wide corporate media, that person is Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch’s News Corporation reigns supreme in television and print media in his native Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Americans are most familiar with News Corporation ownership of the Fox news cable channel, the New York Post, Dow Jones Inc., the Wall Street Journal, and Twentieth Century Fox film studio among others. The Murdoch organization is not just big, but has a distinct political point of view. Despite the claim of being “fair and balanced” Fox news and other Murdoch outlets blatantly promote and protect conservative interests and politics.
One of Murdoch’s British newspapers, the News of the World, is embroiled in a scandal so overwhelming that it caused the mogul to close down that publication. Over a period of years, the News of the World hired private investigators to hack into the voice mail messages of members of the British royal family, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, celebrities, and other prominent people.
The News of the World settled out of court with some of those injured by the invasion of privacy. In other cases, a reporter and an investigator were sentenced to jail for their actions. These cases are not new, and have been percolating just below the surface with the News Corporation successfully minimizing bad publicity. The ability to keep this sordid news from affecting the conglomerate until recently is just one indicator of the very corrupt relationship between corporate media and politicians.
British Prime Minister David Cameron tapped Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor, to be his communications director. This appointment came about despite the emerging scandal. Coulson eventually resigned as the story unfolded, and he has since been arrested, but his hiring proved that Murdoch felt he had nothing to fear from politicians and that he was probably right to be so unconcerned.
As with all wrong doing however, some truth came eventually to light that changed the equation. A story broke which involved not just phone hacking but police misconduct and interference with a kidnapping and murder investigation. In 2002 a British teenager was abducted and later found murdered. During the time she was missing and still not accounted for, her voice mails were deleted and her family was given false hope that she was still alive.
It was a News of the World private investigator who deleted the voice mails and compromised an ongoing police investigation. Some police officers were misdirected in their investigation of the case, while others were on the take and gave News of the World backchannel information in an effort to keep a good relationship with the corporate power house.
The recognition of this conduct caused immediate and universal revulsion among the British public, frightened advertisers, and caused politicians to outdo one another in condemning the publication.
All of this makes good fodder for the rest of the media, but no one is talking about what all of this says about government and press relations and not just in Britain but in this country as well. Murdoch received a permanent waiver of FCC rules that prohibit ownership of a newspaper and television station in the same city. The New York Post and WNYW television are all allowed to remain in his hands, and give him a disproportionately large voice in the media capital of the United States. The media are controlled by many wealthy individuals and corporations, and our ability get useful information is compromised in this process.
Money is a corrupting influence and corruption in the media is particularly pernicious. Throughout history, the press have influenced public opinion, and by doing so shape events and influence popular thought on the important issues of the moment. When the media are concentrated into fewer and fewer and wealthier hands, the potential for abuse is enormous. Murdoch was not the only media beneficiary when the FCC allowed him and others to consolidate their power and influence. He is just one of the most prominent.
Bad publicity aside, there is every reason to believe that Murdoch will succeed in purchasing Britain’s Sky News Service. He may be delayed by these events, but he is rich and powerful and will eventually emerge triumphant. Depending upon which way the political winds blow, more reporters, editors and corrupt police officers may suffer, but it is the man with the gold who makes the rules.
Politicians in London, New York and Washington will still dance to the tune of the Murdochs of the world. It is they who decide who will and won’t be in the power in the first place.