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Issue #1510      20 July 2011


News of the World’s biggest scandal

For a newspaper that thrived on scandal, sensation and mud-raking, there is a certain irony that News of the World (NoW) has fallen on its own sword to become of one of the biggest scandals of all. The tables have turned on Rupert Murdoch, the “untouchable” king of the News Corporation media empire, who used his tabloids and other media outlets to push his right-wing, anti-worker political agenda and to make or break governments. Witness the scurrilous and dishonest attacks on the Greens and Senator Lee Rhiannon in particular.

Rupert, his son James and Rebekah Brooks are due to appear before a House of Commons Committee this week “to account for the behaviour of News International and for previous statements made to the committee in Parliament, now acknowledged to be false.” James was head of News International (News Corp’s British arm) and Rebekah Brooks its editor when the phone of murdered teenager Milly Dowler was hacked into and messages deleted by NoW. Brooks resigned as CEO of News International last week and was arrested by British police over the weekend. The head of Scotland Yard (British police HQ) has stepped down. Prime Minister David Cameron, one of a number of politicians who had a close relationship with the Murdochs, is frantically trying to distance himself.

Rupert Murdoch was in the throes of adding to his media monopoly which straddles newspapers, film, cable, satellite, TV and books when the British Guardian Weekly broke with new revelations of systemic phone hacking and police bribery and cover-ups. News Corp withdrew its US$12.7 billion bid to take over BSkyB, Britain’s largest pay TV broadcaster. It did so on the eve of a parliamentary vote urging News Corp to withdraw its bid. Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to join Labour (who moved the motion), other conservatives and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners in supporting the motion. For the first time, it was seen as political suicide not to take on the media baron.

In Australia, Murdoch is competing with the ABC for a $223 million government contract for Australia’s overseas television service which is currently broadcast by the ABC. The ABC and Sky News are the only bidders for the tender.

Thanks to the British independent Guardian Weekly’s exposés and the publicity by public broadcaster the BBC, and other independent media outlets, the tide is turning on News Corporation. Several News staff have already been arrested. There are strong calls for the break up of Murdoch’s empire in the British Parliament, and for an FBI investigation in the US Congress. News Corp and the Murdochs face criminal investigations and possible prosecution in the US and UK as well as a judicial inquiry in the UK. News’s hacking of victims of the 9/11 attack and families of servicemen who lost heir lives in Afghanistan went too far to be ignored. Murdoch is madly manoeuvring against mounting odds. He placed an incredible “interview” in his Wall Street Journal, saying he wanted “to establish our integrity in the eyes of the public” and ran ads apologising.

The National Union of Journalists has not forgotten the brutal attack on their rights when Rupert Murdoch moved to deunionise Wapping 25 years ago. It said, “The best way to ensure a similar scandal does not happen again is to ensure a strong union presence in every newsroom and every studio.”

Britain’s socialist daily Morning Star noted, “Victory for media decency will not be complete until News International itself is designated as neither fit nor proper to own newspapers or TV stations in Britain.” Add Australia and the US to that statement.

The exposure of the operations of the Murdoch dynasty’s News Corporation highlights the perils of media monopolisation; the lack of government regulation and public accountability; the corruption and criminality of private, for-profit media operators; the power and their abuse of it that individuals wield through control of media monopolies; and the importance of public and other independent media outlets. The News Corp scandal provides an opportunity to take up these issues and fight for public and not-for-profit, independent media.

Next article – Check your pay slip!

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