Murdoch’s Empire Unravels

Those who care about integrity in journalism, raise a cheer! In July, after over 160 years in print, the UK’s Sunday tabloid, “The News of the World” was shut down following months of scandal involving clandestine hacking into the voice and text messages of celebrities—including members of the Royal Family—the families of British soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq and, most distasteful of all, a 13 year old murder victim whose voice mail box was reportedly emptied to allow for new messages leading police and her distraught parents to believe she was alive long after her death.

The irony is that the rag— the UK’s best selling Sunday newspaper despite making the rest of the gutter press seem respectable—has built its reputation and readership by exposing the alleged improper conduct of others and doing so ruthlessly and—many would say—salaciously.

The NoW was one of four UK publications owned by News Corporation, the head of which is Rupert Murdoch, an Australian-American “press baron” whose empire has included publications in Australia and the US as well as the UK, where “The Times”, “The Sunday Times” and the sensation-seeking “Sun” make up his stable. Murdoch created the Fox Broadcasting Company in the US and was involved in a highly controversial bid to take over British Sky Broadcasting in which he already has a significant stake. Murdoch has long been considered so powerful a figure in the media that politicians have gone to great pains to avoid alienating him. So it is particularly interesting to see that almost to a man the British Parliament has rounded on him as revelation after revelation has emerged concerning this most recent scandal. The pressure as been such that the BSkyB bid has been withdrawn.

Murdoch representatives in the UK have hurried to express their concern but significantly have not sought the resignation of the woman who was the NoW’s editor through the period when the hacking was at its height, Rebekah Brooks. A close friend and country neighbor of Prime Minister David Cameron, Brooks—who started her career as a secretary at the paper—now serves as the CEO of News International, the company that oversees News Corp’s UK businesses. Speculation is mounting as to why Murdoch chose to sacrifice his best-selling newspaper as opposed to his flame-haired protégé.

Cameron is seriously embarrassed in a more immediate way. He and his party have benefited greatly from Murdoch’s support and Cameron hired a former editor at the NoW, Andy Coulson, as his director of communications and later the Conservatives’ chief spokesman; this despite the fact that he had resigned from the paper as a result of earlier investigations. Coulson was recently arrested on the grounds that whilst he was editor, he authorized illegal payments to police officers for privileged information.

Ian de Stains OBE is the author of “The Business Travellers’ Handbook to Japan” published by Stacey International in the UK and available from Amazon.