Murdochs finally held to account by select committee

Labour Party

Following the News of the World scandal, I wrote an article about the fate of Murdoch’s media empire which was just published on PublicServiceEurope.com. It is copied out in full below:

The media empire of such might that was seemingly indestructible is now being rocked to its foundations

Yesterday afternoon, the Murdochs agreed that they would appear before a select committee in the Houses of Parliament. The committee is not able to summons them, as such, but the invitation was forceful nevertheless. Initially, they declined the request stating that they would appear before an inquiry – but that they could not appear in front of the select committee. Perhaps, there was a diary clash, eventually there was a U-turn and they changed their minds. The above scenario sums up the whole scandal.

An empire of such might existed and it was seemingly indestructible. Those at the top felt they were above any authority and it is this culture which, to us outsiders at least, appears to have permeated and flourished throughout the empire. We are even hearing from the FBI that it is now reporting 9/11 victims had their phones hacked by News Corporation, adding further violation to the uncomfortable feeling that those at the top encouraged unscrupulous behaviour.

In Britain, the scandal is considered to be so serious, that is has dominated all media coverage and shocked the nation over the last two weeks – precisely, because we have such a strong media culture which sets high investigative standards and which is highly regarded internationally. Was it right that the News of the World closed last Sunday? That is a difficult question, but it seems there was little choice – the brand was deemed to be untrustworthy. How would it ever find advertisers, who would be prepared to appear in their paper and pay to advertise? The brand had been irreparably damaged. The 200 or so staff suffered as a result of the actions of others, who had since moved on. The future of these journalists is unclear, many hope to be redeployed within the empire – but there is no guarantee.

And so their future along with that of the British print media remains uncertain. Murdoch may leave the paper industry all together and focus his efforts on broadcast media. We do not know – but next week when he and his son, James, and former News of the World editor and erstwhile chief executive of News International Rebekah Brooks appear in front of the Commons Culture Media and Sport Select Committee – the world’s eyes will be following their every movement and hanging off their every word, because finally they will be held to account.

The News of the World’s demise and the way forward

Labour Party

Following on from my blog yesterday on the closure of the News of the World and the need for greater media pluratity, here are some of my thoughts on what this entails in the imminent future.

Whilst what happened at the News of the World was awful and should be dealt with extremely seriously, we must remember that lots of innocent people have lost their jobs in order that Murdoch can pursue his agenda. We must be wary of what this means for the future.

The closure of NOTW should be the beginning of a media overhaul, not the end.

Labour Party

The shock and horror of the British public over the phone hacking scandal at the News of the    World is palpable. The British public may have had little sympathy with media-courting celebrities who has the boundaries of their privacy broken – but news that murder victims phones were hacked has justly provoked outrage and disgust against the tabloid.

I am not going to delve too deep into condemning the actions of News International, that pool is already murky enough and our Labour Leader is doing a fine job of fronting proper criticism and putting pressure on Mr Cameron to get his act together in dealing with this issue.

I would, however, like to talk about what this indicates of some very worrying trends in the global media market. The Murdoch empire has once again shown that it is fundamentally just too powerful. In controlling so many media outlets Murdoch was able to dictate the outcome of elections, deluge the public consciousness with his opinions and, it is now clear, force all politicians to be beholden to him to the extent where they were afraid even to try to uncover illegal activities within his company.

This situation is not unique to the UK.  Consider for example Italy where Berlusconi not only runs the country but also maintains a national media monopoly. Unsurprisingly, media coverage in Italy is overwhelmingly more Berlusconi-friendly than in the rest of the world. Italian politics now takes place within Berlusconi’s fishbowl, the walls of which distort and dim even the most lurid of the Prime Minister’s activities and those of his associates.

There are a multiplicity of problems incurred by such media monopolies. It means that the public is not afforded the option of a variety of opinions and viewpoints. Public opinion is as much informed by the media as the media is guided by it; restricting the diversity of media opinions leads to a warping of public debate. In the case of news outlets such as Fox this can stray into the territory of the deliberately misleading and the propagation of actual untruths.

The News of the World has closed but this should not be the end of the story. At any rate the closure of the NOTW was as much a market-based decision as a political appeaser: Its mass desertion by advertisers rendered the tabloid unsustainable.  Instead this should initiate a rethink of how the media should be run within the UK and elsewhere. Allowing certain companies to achieve monopolies within the media not only leads to corruption, it is harmful to democracy. A healthy media requires a plurality of voices and opinions, free to report and express but that can also be regulated in order to prevent slander and malpractice. If the News of the World crisis teaches us anything it is that the British media has become divorced from its purpose. We must find a way to get it back on track.