Yoke of Murdoch loosens for politicians

The mice are roaring. A subject people is standing up to its oppressor. Angela Long on today's Commons debate about Murdoch, The News of the World, and the BSkyB bid.

There’s all-party agreement in the British parliament, at last out in the open, that the Murdoch press is a Bad Thing. Today (13 July) the House of Commons will stand solid behind a motion introduced by Labour leader, Ed Miliband. This motion declares that News Corp is not a fit and proper organisation to have a major role in the journalism enjoyed by the British public.

And there must be more than a few MPs delighted that, at last, they are out from the yoke of Murdoch and News International, of having to curry favour with the newspaper publisher behind sales of around 35 million copies a week, and therefore about 40 million readers.

That’s about two-thirds of the British population, and a lot of people to influence when voting time comes around. "It’s The Sun wot won it,” crowed the tabloid daily back in 1992, when John Major’s Tories unexpectedly won a general election. Tony Blair famously flew halfway around the world (to Queensland, Australia) to lick the boots of Old Man Murdoch in the mid-nineties. And once The Sun declared that Gordon Brown was a busted flush, in a front-page splash, the last prime minister’s days were clearly numbered.


“We have let one man have far too great a sway over our national life,” Labour MP Chris Bryant told Parliament in London last week. “Murdoch is not resident here, does not pay tax here. No other country would allow one man to garner four national newspapers, the second largest broadcaster, a monopoly on sports rights and first-view movies.”

Great days indeed, for the role of the media in keeping politicians and the system honest.

What, you say? That’s nonsense – the boot is on the other foot. Murdoch’s empire, encompassing the Sun, the now buried News of the World, the Times and the Sunday Times, is in disgrace over the illegal and amoral ways in which it obtained stories.

But if News International is diminished, if not destroyed, there is another media player which has indeed covered itself with credit in this disturbing saga. That’s the Guardian, the newspaper which uncovered the phone-hacking scandal that has brought News International to this pass.

(Just for clarity here: News Corporation is the international company headed by Murdoch, and News International is the British newspaper division. News Corp currently owns 39% of BSkyB, and today’s Commons motion is against the company being allowed to buy the remaining 61%.)

The Guardian, bible of the left-wing reader, the teacher, social worker, and journalist, started its stories on News International phone-hacking in 2009. The paper revealed that people in, and close to, the royal family had their mobile phones hacked, as had a range of celebrities of varying levels of fame. The story weaved on, with high profile ‘victims’ including comic actor Steve Coogan, actress Sienna Miller, and actor Hugh Grant. It could fairly be said that most people were not overly concerned at intrusion into the affairs of Coogan and Grant, who are regarded as material for entertainment anyway.

The Guardian kept on digging, but just last week, when the news broke that the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler had been hacked in 2002 – before her body was found – that caused an earthquake of revulsion. More revelations followed, that the phones of 7/7 bombing victims and families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, had also been violated.

Editor Alan Rusbridger has not been looking smug, but must be feeling vindicated to the extreme – as, indeed, are all those people who felt for years that Rupert Murdoch’s papers with their smutty scandals, page three girls and reckless regard for ethics, were a blight on British society.

More on this the topic later, but in the meantime here’s a helpful timeline of the scandal from The Daily Telegraph’s website. And, as an aside to the debate about newspapers and what the public wants to read, it should be noted that one of the biggest spikes ever in a newspaper’s circulation occurred with the Telegraph, when it published details of British MPs fraudulent or exaggerated expenses. Legitimate stuff.



This article also appears on www.alongsword.com