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Issue #1511      27 July 2011

Stench of corruption

The power of a media monopoly

The forced closure of News of the World (NoW), a gutter tabloid that profited on sensation, sex, scandal, sleaze and sport, while promoting the right-wing policies and ideology of News Corp’s CEO and chairman Rupert Murdoch, is no loss. The furore surrounding its closure has exposed the extensive powers of the media “King’s” global media monopoly and the interconnections of monopoly capital with the state. The reach of Rupert Murdoch into the highest echelons of government and the employment of News Corp personnel by the British Prime Minister and police HQ is a lesson in state monopoly capitalism.

Rupert Murdoch

The scandal surrounding NoW’s hacking of a murdered teenager’s phone was too big to be swept under the carpet. Apart from the closure of NoW, it has led to investigations into hacking and payments to police for information, resignations, arrests and forced News Corp to abandon its takeover bid for BSkyB pay-TV.

The New York Times (NYT) on July 22 published a three-column guide of key figures involved. The first column related to the British government, the second to News Corporation (including those arrested, charged and previously jailed over hackings) and the third to the Metropolitan Police (also known as the Met or Scotland Yard). It illustrates the penetration of former editors and executives of News Corp into government and a key arm of state machinery.

It also begs the question: What other areas have News Corp or other media magnates penetrated? The courts? government departments – defence, foreign affairs, treasury, education….?

The enormous amount of personal information gained on celebrities, politicians, police and others through hacking not only served to boost circulation with “scoops” but also provided dirt which could be used for other purposes. The power of a media monopoly to make or break governments, discredit officers in public positions reeks more of corruption than democracy.

Ten arrests have been made, including former editor of NoW and CEO of News International (a British arm of News Corp) Rebekah Brooks.

Rupert and son James, along with Brooks, have faced questioning by a parliamentary committee – pleading ignorance and suffering the all too familiar memory lapses that corporate leaders experience on the rare occasions they are called to account.

PM David Cameron is reported to be a personal friend of Brooks and Andy Coulson who was also arrested. Coulson, who resigned in 2007 as editor of NoW, was employed as chief press officer by Cameron, despite investigations of hackings under his watch as editor.

Police compromised

Scotland Yard’s police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and assistant commissioner John Yates have resigned. Stephenson said he had decided to step down because “the ongoing speculation and accusations relating to the Met’s links with News International at a senior level” had made it difficult for him to do his job!

According to the NYT, an Ochs-Sulzberger family publication, Stephenson met for meals 18 times with News International executives and editors at the same time as earlier investigations into alleged phone hackings were taking place.

The NYT reported that eight of these meetings were with Neil Wallis (one of those arrested this month), an editor of NoW who was employed by the Met as a media consultant when NoW was under investigation. The NYT says that Wallis “is said to have reported back to News International about the hacking case during the this period.”

His employment was not revealed until after his arrest earlier this month. The NYT reports: “In his statement, Sir Paul explained that he had withheld information about his contacts with Mr Wallis, even after Mr Wallis became a phone-hacking suspect, because he ‘did not want to compromise the prime minister in any way by revealing or discussing a potential suspect who clearly had a close relationship with Mr Coulson’ – Mr Cameron’s friend and former employee.”

In his resignation statement, Stephenson said: “Unlike Mr Coulson, Mr Wallis had not resigned from News of the World or, to the best of my knowledge, been in any way associated with the original phone-hacking investigation’’ (Emphasis added). Stephenson also indicated that more than a fifth (at least 10) of the Met’s 45 people in its media operations office have worked at News International!

Stephenson denied knowledge of the extent of the phone hacking or Wallis’ possible involvement. “I saw senior figures from News International providing evidence that the misbehaviour was confined to a rogue few and not known about at the top,” Stephenson said. Certainly an unusual approach to consider the word of an organisation under a cloud as “evidence”!

But that is not all. The NYT (17-07-2011) notes that Wallis also worked for Champney’s Spa where Stephenson was treated for free for five weeks – $17,000 worth for free. Instead of the usual regrets in hindsight and offering to pay, Stephenson went on to say: “There has been no impropriety and I am extremely happy with what I did and the reasons for it … The attempt to represent this in a negative way is both cynical and disappointing.”

Political power

It is often said that Murdoch makes and breaks governments around the world. His media outlets are an all pervasive source of “news” for millions of people. In Britain, his media backed his close friend Margaret Thatcher for many years.

It backed Tony Blair in as Labor MP and was in contact just hours before Blair announced Britain would go to war in Iraq in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. News Corp played a huge role in selling that lie.

When Blair ran out of steam with the public, News Corp gave Gordon Brown a helping hand. In the last elections it turned on Brown and saw Cameron elected.

In the US, his Fox News Network helped spread the lies about the Iraq war, supported George W Bush’s electoral campaign, pushes racist attitudes towards Muslims and immigrants and supports the extreme right-wing Tea Party.

In Australia, Murdoch’s role in the lead-up to and following the coup against the Labor Whitlam government in 1975 should not be forgotten. More recently, Kevin Rudd had the backing of Murdoch when elected in 2007. But Rudd fell foul of Murdoch with his support of an emissions trading scheme and a tax on super-profits in the mining sector.

His media backed Julia Gillard who in turn is now under attack over her carbon tax policy. Abbott, the climate change denier, who would like to restore WorkChoices or worse, is now the favoured son.

The Australian and other Murdoch-controlled outlets have no shortage of space for loony and dangerous, right-wing climate change deniers. They consistently spout Murdoch’s right-wing, neo-liberal policies on international affairs, social issues and economic policy.

You won’t find support for the Palestinian people on his pages, let alone honest coverage of Cuba. Its media have run outrageous, racist campaigns against land rights and Indigenous people, against asylum seekers and welfare recipients. Murdoch is strongly opposed to Labor’s national broadband network, which could have consequences for his own operations.

There is no point looking for honest, objective coverage of the news, or a fair presentation of the Greens’, let alone the Communist Party of Australia’s policies.

Political domination

Murdoch is an un-elected and very powerful politician and ideologue, with highly developed anti-worker, anti-union policies that serve the interests of his media monopoly and other profit-making investments.

It is no coincidence that aspiring and elected prime ministers visit him in the US and are in regular contact with Murdoch and his senior executives. Gillard was a guest in the US at a private lunch for his 80th birthday earlier this year. He is also in touch with Tony Abbott.

The present situation forced the political parties in Britain to publicly unite against the hackings. Gillard now has little to lose by speaking critically of the man.

It remains to be seen just how far the various investigations in the US, Britain and Australia are prepared to go, how confident potential witnesses feel about coming forward and to what extent governments are prepared to take action.

The media (not just Murdoch’s) have not been slow in warning governments not to go down the regulatory path. They will fight to retain their “self-regulatory” status and as few controls on cross-media ownership as possible. The most immediate battle in Australia is to prevent Murdoch from winning the tender to take over the ABC’s international TV broadcasting. (See last week’s Guardian.)  

Next article – Editorial – Words, weapons and lies

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