Amidst the furore surrounding Murdoch and his empire, not to mention the tsunami of scandal that has swept this country since the first wave of News of the World allegations just fifteen days ago, I feel that now would be a good time to publish my archive piece, ‘Murdoch’s Media Monopoly’, first published in Impact in December 2009, a time where Murdoch’s omnipotence was the status quo and no one could ever really see that changing.
His satellites deliver TV programmes in 5 continents. He publishes 175 newspapers, including The Sun, The News of the World, The Times, The Sunday Times, The New York Post and the majority of Australia’s nationals. He owns Fox Studios, News and TV networks, 19 sports channels and 35 TV stations that reach 40% of the U.S. public. He also owns Sky TV, Harper Collins publishing, MySpace, record labels and countless other media components which all make up his formidable company NewsCorp, which employs 55,000 people and has a market capital of $30.72 bn.
Rupert Murdoch’s career began in his native Australia, where first owned a small paper and then went on to dominate national media. In 1968 Murdoch bought The News of the World, and later The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times. His power and company grew rapidly: in the 70’s he snapped up and revitalised the New York Post and the New York Magazine, and then went on to found Sky. So, how has he become so successful?
Murdoch systematically trades his media components’ editorial bias for political favours, and by carefully cultivating relationships with national governments he has bought ever more influence throughout the world. This has enabled him to break down or sidestep media legislation intended to prevent the emergence of media barons such as himself.
The media has an undeniable influence on public opinion. It can make or break a would-be celebrity or politician overnight. Take Jade Goody who one day faced a barrage of scornful headlines, the next was a national heroine.
Tabloids are more of a liability than broadsheets as they are more prone to sensationalism, which can galvanise readers into more extreme actions or views than they would have otherwise had. It is also a big fat pound sign in the eyes of the editors. The Sun and its ilk are culprits of Yellow Journalism – a term used to describe journalism that always downplays legitimate news in favour of eye-catching headlines that sell more. Similarly, Junk Food News describes ‘news’ that is sensationalised and inconsequential trivia, which is ‘not very nourishing, but cheap to produce’. The whole point of news is that it should be informative, not entertaining, and unbiased enough for us to make our own opinions on matters.
Murdoch, as the owner of the most widely read newspaper in the country, is all too aware of his power, and uses it to influence the political scene. He has a history of private parties with influential politicians, and even has Barack Obama begrudgingly doing deals with him to keep is PR in check.
In 2008 Obama, Murdoch and the President of the Fox News channel agreed upon a “tentative truce”. Obama resented Fox’s portrayal of him as “suspicious, foreign, fearsome – just short of a terrorist”, while Fox News’ President was quoted as saying: “It might not have been this way if Obama had been more willing to come on air”. NewsCorp even had the power to recruit the Kennedys as go-betweens, and eventually an agreement was made that Obama would be portrayed more favourably as long as he would be more willing to appear on Fox.
Closer to home, Murdoch has our candidates for PM eating out of the palm of his hand. In October 2006, when Murdoch was asked what he thought of David Cameron, he shortly replied “not much”, and was actually highly impressed by Gordon Brown. Fast forward to last year, when David Cameron accepted free flights on Murdoch’s private jet to hold private talks with Murdoch on his yacht – the total sum of which cost Murdoch a hefty £30,000. Cameron had declared in the Commons register of interest that he accepted the private jet and yacht invitation, but would not disclose the content of the discussions. Later in the same year, Cameron welcomed Murdoch to his house in Kensington, knowing that winning over Murdoch would lead to his most important endorsement ahead of the general elections.
One recent example of this media oligarch wielding power over politicians in order to change laws so he can expand his company, as well as the biggest indication as to why Murdoch went from thinking Cameron “a lightweight” to fully supporting him in just a few short years, is the 2009 Murdoch/Cameron BSkyB/Ofcom/BBC deal. Murdoch has always been very candid about his dislike of his rival BBC, complaining that the BBC is “feather-bedded” because it’s funded by the license fee. Murdoch’s son made a scathing attack on the BBC in August, as well as attacking Ofcom, accusing the communications regulator of intervening “with relish” at any opportunity.
Ofcom is currently investigating BSkyB (Murdoch’s company which runs Sky), and has demanded that BSkyB sell its’ premium content to rival broadcasters for up to a third less than it currently charges, as well as selling off its’ holding in ITV. Enter Cameron. He engineered a parliamentary vote against the BBC, proposing to freeze the license fee, claiming that the BBC needed to “do more with less”. He also pledged to abolish Ofcom, promising that if he were elected Prime Minister, “Ofcom as we know it will cease to exist.”
Then, who could have guessed it, in September this year The Sun announced the end of its’ 12-year support of Labour with the headline LABOUR’S LOST IT. Sky News spent much of the day reporting on the political reaction of The Sun – remember, this is a NewsCorp component reporting on another NewsCorp component. The reaction of The Sun, hyped up by Sky News, fans the flames for us, making The Sun’s political decisions appear important. Murdoch has the power to make The Sun’s political stance headline news in itself.
Incidentally, the Tories had to defend The Sun’s move, denying that it had nothing to do with their appointing of Andy Coulson – former editor of The News of The World – as the Conservative Party’s Head of Communications.
All this evidence, to me, points to a deeper corruption than Joe Public realises. We all know that MPs can be dishonest (I think the expenses scandal will remain raw in everyone’s minds for a long time to come), but these examples have shown that the MPs, the Prime Minister or even the President for that matter, are not at the top of the food chain. The real predator is Murdoch, because as the media is the world’s most powerful force, and he’s the most powerful man in media, then he’s leading by the balls every big player whose career and reputation depends on public opinion.
NewsCorp is swallowing up every small, medium and even large fish in the industry, and it’s frightening because this isn’t globalization in the way that Coca Cola or Nestle swallow up every other company in their sector. By buying a chocolate bar from a small brand I could unwittingly be contributing to the unethical Goliath company that owns it, but then I’m only being misinformed as a consumer. NewsCorp owns a large section of the media, and the media forms peoples’ opinions and thoughts. How many people’s opinions does this man covertly form? NewsCorp reminds me sinisterly of The Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984. Take note: Murdoch is watching you.
Hypothetically, if Murdoch managed to take over every media outlet in the world – which he could well be on his way to doing – then we would all effectively be reading the stance, bias or opinions of just one man, which is nothing short of brainwashing.
I am wary of one person controlling so much information. If all we consume is junk food, then we will rot our bodies, but if all we consume is Junk Food News, then we will rot our minds. Murdoch is a fearfully powerful man who knows that the pen is far, far mightier than the sword.