Anyone beguiled by appeals by the Murdoch press in Australia for the defence of “freedom” against the Leviathan of the state needs to read Tom Watson’s ‘Dial M for Murdoch’ – a forensic examination of the gradual corruption of the British state by News Corporation.
Reading the book should cure any delusion you have that these events are in any way controversial. Using court and police records, it shows in great detail that elements within News Corporation have bought police, put politicians on the payroll, intimidated regulators, invaded privacy and routinely smeared critics to get its way.
Here in Australia, the defence is that News Ltd, the local operating company, is a far different beast to News International, the UK arm of the corporation and an organisation that in Watson’s book is shown to behave in a way that makes Tony Soprano’s fictional gang look like pink jump-suited Eurovision song entrants.
But what’s striking from a reading of Dial M is that much of what you see in the UK – the high-minded editorialising about ‘freedom’, the Sicilian-style vendettas, the wagon-circling tribalism, the smearing of critics, the self-interested attacks on public broadcasting, the backroom deals, the courting and anointing of favoured politicians – is evident in Australia.
What’s clear from Watson (a British Labour MP himself hacked and smeared by News International) is the perfectly inverse correlation between the high-mindedness of the corporation’s editorial rhetoric (the sacred trust of the Fourth Estate in holding the powerful to account) and the sheer grubbiness of their editorial tactics.
The most eye-opening chapter in the book is the well-researched account of the murder of Daniel Morgan, a private investigator who had become concerned at the close links between his partner Jonathon Rees, a former policeman on the News payroll and mixed up with bent coppers.
Morgan was murdered by a contract killer who cleaved his face with an axe in an underground carpark. After repeated stymied enquiries into the killing, a senior metropolitan police offer went on BBC TV’s Crimewatch program to appeal to the public for information. News responded by putting a surveillance team on the policeman in an attempt to smear him and put him off the scent.
Rebekah Brooks, the former News of the World and News International boss subsequently charged over the phone hacking scandal, went into bat for the editor that ordered the surveillance, saying he was merely trying to discover whether the policeman was having an affair.
Of course, News Corp in Australia is a different beast and one can safely say that the worst excesses of the Murdoch modus operandi are not evident here. But it is fair to say that elements of the whatever-it-takes, tribal and self-aggrandising culture are very similar.
This is a company that controls 70 per cent of our print media, has a monopoly in pay television, owns half our national news agency, a third of our major cable news provider and whose proprietor is sufficiently powerful that he can beckon would-be prime ministers half way around the world before he will give them his imprimatur.
The fact is that for all the tub-thumbing about editorial freedom and the virtues of a vigilant press, News Corporation is a company that is about amassing power and influence. In the UK, we have seen that those commercial and ideological ambitions can sometimes trump the law. The common factor in all of it is Murdoch himself, as Watson summarises:
“From the start of his career in 1950s Australia, Murdoch manipulated politicians and broke rules and promises to accumulate money and power. It may not be possible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he knew about the wrongdoing in Britain. Many, including the authors, think he is, at best, guilty of wilful blindness. As the head of the company, he shaped its culture. While he depicted phone hacking as an anomaly … seasoned Murdoch-watchers identified the wrongdoing as part of a pattern – the greatest manifestation of a win-at-all-costs diktat which bent and broke the rules at will.”
Meanwhile … in Hobart … the cold winds of change which has seen
Now this is a classic power schmooze as the Brit Culture Secretary bows before Murdoch power …
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Action in the pool – and beside the pool
Saturday 04 August 2012
Paraic O’Brien Reporter
It’s all happening at the Aquatics Centre – or rather, outside it – as embattled Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt shakes hands with News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch. Channel 4 News’s Paraic O’Brien looks on.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt shakes hands with News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch.
You can learn a lot about Britain by just hanging by the side of the pool. Especially, when that pool is the Aquatics Centre at the Olympic Park during one of the big nights of the Games.
From an overpass, looking down onto the service road where VIPs arrive, you can see it all.
Tony Blair, for example, has the biggest security cavalcade; William and Kate look happy together; Jeremy Hunt and Rupert Murdoch ditto.
Mr Murdoch was there by invitation of Boris Johnson. As the mayor arrived I asked him how he was feeling ahead of his love-in by the poolside. “He’s an important investor in the London economy,” he replied.
“Yeah, I know, but what will you be chatting about? What’s he like?”
“He’s an important investor in the London economy,” he replied, again.
Then he went into to watch Michael Phelps take a 17th gold and Rebecca Adlington take a bronze.
At the end of the event, the cavalcades starting filing up outside again. There’s Tony Blair and Cherie hugging Tessa Jowell. There’s the young Prince and Princess looking radiant. There’s Rupert Murdoch and his wife. No sign of their car though.
“Mr Murdoch, up here.” I’m about 30 yards away. “Wave, if you’d like Boris to be prime minister.” He looks angry and waves me away.
Still no sign of the car. Then along comes the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt. He shakes Rupert Murdoch’s hand warmly. There are lots of smiles. It feels very chummy indeed.
There’s even some “What ya gonna do?” style, resigned shrugging. Eventually, Jeremy Hunt’s ministerial car arrives. Mr Murdoch’s car doesn’t arrive. He has to get a black cab.
• Meanwhile …
Newspaper circulation: Down, Down … the Numbers are Down …
and, via Peter:
Paper faces court over naming rape victim
Tasmania’s Director of Public Prosecutions has called the Mercury newspaper a ‘rogue organisation’ during contempt of court proceedings in Hobart.
Tim Ellis took the Mercury to court earlier this year for revealing the name of a rape victim in January.
Today, the Supreme Court heard the paper inadvertently named a second victim in July.
Justice Helen Wood has reserved her decision in the first case.
But Mr Ellis is pushing for it to be re-opened so the second incident can be taken into account.
He told the court it shows the Mercury is a rogue organisation with an inability to learn from the past.
He said the newspaper, by its actions, had undermined the protection and peace of mind the legislation was supposed to give the victims of sexual crimes.
The Mercury’s lawyers will file documents to show the newspaper’s training and systems have improved.
The case has been adjourned.