Reams of commentary has been written about the scandal engulfing the world’s largest media mogul, Rupert Murdoch and his business empire. Everyday there are continuous updates about the latest revelations, twists and turns by his chief executives and lieutenants, and the ongoing questions about just how far this scandal reaches into the highest levels of political power.
The exposure of the constant phone-hacking by the News of the World media corporation has lifted the lid on the underlying criminality of the financial and political elites in Britain. Even the former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated that the Murdoch clan run a “criminal-media” nexus. He glaringly omitted to mention that the political highflyers and the top law enforcement officials are also implicated in this ever-growing scandal of corruption and nepotism. The Metropolitan police chief, Sir Paul Stephenson, had to resign because of the failure of the police to follow up investigations of misconduct by News of the World journalists and the bribery of police officials.
However, I think a number of points get lost in the maelstrom of media coverage about this issue. This scandal exposes the decay and rottenness of the British liberal democratic system, whereby a major media corporation has gotten away with criminal behaviour for years while the politicians embraced the Murdoch empire singing its praises, and the law enforcement officials were bribed to look the other way. Even current UK Prime Minister David Cameron had to acknowledge that a high degree of collusion between the political establishment and the media empire. The parasitic nature of the Murdoch empire is not in question, it has been exposed for all the world to see.
The larger point to make, I think, was made by the always perceptive and indefatigable John Pilger, who stated that the Murdoch effect has not only corrupted the political and legal systems, but has corrupted the journalistic process as well. Murdoch has presided over a steady poisoning of the journalistic system, “waging a war on journalism, truth and humanity and succeeded because he knew how to exploit a system that welcomed his rapacious devotion to the ‘free market’.” Murdoch was the most effective and public of the practitioners of waging a stealthy and sleazy war on journalism, and was able to get away with it because all of his colleagues and competitors in the media business were operating on the same principles, if only on a smaller scale.
Where were all the critics when Murdoch’s papers were hounding striking workers and their families, the unemployed, refugees, welfare recipients, and cheering US wars for imperial conquest? The British Labour Party, having feted Murdoch and his executives for decades, are now suddenly finding their teeth and biting chunks out of the Murdoch empire. While the Murdoch press loudly applauded the Tory party in Britain for their assault on the working conditions of ordinary people, and their privatisations of government assets, the Murdoch media juggernaut switched sides abruptly in the mid-1990s and backed Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ to the hilt. It was revealed that Murdoch even had a hotline to then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in the run-up to the March 2003 American invasion of Iraq. It is highly hypocritical of the British Labour Party to assume the mantle of principled opposition to the Murdoch empire when they have been carefully cultivating a close relationship for years.
Where are the changes to the laws that made such a massive media oligopoly possible? After all, Murdoch did not come from nowhere, but is a scion of the Australo-British elite and plotted his way to amassing a gigantic media empire. He pioneered the journalism of ‘infotainment’, packaging news into sound-bytes between commercials, and loudly cheering on the oligarchy whether it be attacks on workers, migrants, refugees or wars in search of commercial opportunities abroad. The Murdochisation of the media is to turn the media into a partisan cheerleader of the oligarchic power structures. The Murdoch tabloids are an appendage of the most jingoistic, racist, rabid sections of the US-British ruling class, contaminating the political debate of a country with appalling paeans to the ‘free market’, xenophobic commentary about immigrants and refugees, the sleazy celebration of US militarist adventures abroad, and the effusion of sex scandals and celebrity-worship, as if their shenanigans are newsworthy. The British Labour Party accommodated itself to the Murdoch effect, and changed its politics to follow the course of the ultra-conservative in domestic and foreign policies. Funny how the Murdoch tabloids vehemently denounce ‘big government’ yet owe their rise and success to cultivating cozy relations with big government politicians and were protected by law enforcement officials?
What is necessary now is not just a full public enquiry into the media, though that would be a positive first step. From this putrid morass, there should be a full overhaul of the political-legal-media nexus; breaking the bonds of this incestuous relationship, breaking the media monopolies that have dominated public discourse for so long. While it is great to see heads rolling, with the sackings (excuse me, resignations) of Coulson and Brooks, there needs to be a public campaign pressuring the politicians for complete media reform. Let’s maintain the rage, and not simply acquiesce at the first sign of some half-hearted moves and fake apologies by the Murdoch clan and its minions. Clean up this decayed cesspit, implement laws to stop one person or corporation from owning so much media, break apart the monopolies to ensure diversity of opinion. We are one world, but we have many voices.
As Nicole Colson points out in her article, “the Murdoch press stands apart as morally bankrupt”. The British ruling class intends to contain the crisis, so that it does not develop into a generalised crisis of capitalist authority. Years ago, during the late 1980s, one of the alleged failings of the socialist system in the Soviet Union was the close relationship between the highest levels of political authority and the organs of the mass press. Journalism was viewed as just a mouthpiece for the political authorities, and this was presented as evidence of the weakness of the Soviet socialist system. Well, now I am going to ask, does not this scandal expose the predatory criminality of the capitalist elite, and its utter inability to govern for the people? Does not this scandal, revealing the corporate media to be a direct mouthpiece of the financial oligarchy, indict the capitalist system as a systemically failed entity? We should look beyond the personalities and trivial distractions of this scandal and ask serious questions about how to limit the destructive capacity of the media monopolies. The media moguls like Murdoch will only be halted when the mass of people (and the main victims of this phone-hacking) rise up and force those in power to listen.