Rupert Murdoch, Defender of the Free Press?
On Wednesday, Rupert Murdoch is scheduled to take the stand before the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics for a lengthy examination. The 81-year-old media baron has certainly not made himself any friends in the past year, which has seen the messy unfolding of the hacking scandal; the shuttering of the 168-year-old tabloid the News of the World and the arrests of many its staff including Murdoch’s reputed favorite, Rebekah Brooks, former CEO of New International (NI), the British newspaper arm of News Corporation; allegations of hacking at The Sun, The Times and BSkyB Media, the former two owned by NI, the latter majority-controlled by News Corp.; the loss of the chance to acquire a majority stake in BSkyB; the gradual removal of Murdoch’s younger son James, once considered his father’s heir apparent; numerous settlements with a number of celebrities, athletes and other public figures.
As of last week, even more complaints have been filed and a total of 24 people arrested as part of Operation Elverdeen, the London Metropolitan police’s investigation into corruption. Across the Atlantic, Colin Myler, the very last editor of the News of the World until Murdoch shut it down in July of 2011 and now the editor of the New York Daily News, is now again under the spotlight due to allegations that he sought to intimidate members of the U.K. Parliament who were investigating the phone hacking scandal.
Murdoch At the Leveson Inquiry
Writing in the Guardian, Michael Wolff says that, in the Wednesday “face-off” with the Leveson inquiry, he is rather hoping that Rupert Murdoch gets the better of his questioners — because, however despicable the practices that Murdoch’s media outlets engaged in and however great the scandal that has engulfed Murdoch and News Corp., if it weren’t for Murdoch, there would be no Leveson inquiry. Writes Wolff,
Leveson seeks to regulate news at the exact moment when technology has made this all the more difficult (not to mention, silly). Murdoch seeks to defend his papers at the exact moment when their fate has become obvious to everyone – but, perhaps, him. (Murdoch, arguably, was the internet of his day: using a new understanding of the information business to grab vast new power for himself.)
Wolff predicts that Murdoch, on the advice of his lawyers, will present a subdued face to the inquiry, a persona properly aware of the ethical limits his papers should have adhered to and just close enough to contrite. But here’s what Wolff suggests it would be well for Murdoch to remind the inquiry of:
He should at least remind the committee that millions of the people it represents bought those papers, every day for a half century, which the committee now seeks to condemn. This, I’m sure, is a beat he won’t miss.
And I hope he says that it is his prerogative and even his job to try to influence, frighten, malign and control politicians. It is the job of the political leadership to resist people like him. In those roles, Rupert succeeded and the political leadership failed. They accepted his rewards, and trembled at the prospect of his punishments.
The conclusion of the inquiry may be simply that ”Britain is too small, powerless, inbred and thin-skinned to deal with an unregulated press” and that Murdoch’s press has become “in its way, more powerful than the state itself” to the point of being able to make the news as much as cover it.
So far the months of testimony in the Leveson inquiry have “revealed no practices that any sentient person has not known existed,” says Wolff. ” Yes, corruption, hacking and numerous illegalities have occurred and, yes, various parties connected to the media have carried them out upon various celebrities and other public figures (what is a celebrity or a public figure but someone who gets written up, talked about, blogged and Tweeted and posted about?).The face-off was inevitable – is more regulation the answer, or will that only create more problems, more rules to break, more scandals to hold more inquiries about?
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