Rupert Murdoch, the UK hacking scandal and the power of the Media
Many may feel satisfied to see the most ruthless media mogul of our times apologising for illegal activities such as hacking into private conversations, not just of the rich and famous, but also of murder victims’ relatives, just to sell more papers. He is not apologising, however, for the manipulation of the people to favour this or that politician, nor are the politicians.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation media empire includes over 800 companies (including US Fox Networks and The Wall Street Journal) in more than 50 countries. The News International [UK] phone-hacking scandal is an ongoing controversy involving the News of the World and other British tabloid newspapers published by News International, a subsidiary of News Corporation. Employees of the newspaper were accused of engaging in phone hacking, police bribery [which led to the resignation of Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson], and exercising improper influence in the pursuit of publishing stories.
Investigations conducted from 2005–2007 concluded that the paper’s phone hacking activities were limited to celebrities, politicians and members of the British Royal Family. In July 2011, it was revealed that the phones of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, relatives of deceased British soldiers, and victims of the 7/7 London bombings were also accessed, resulting in a public outcry against News Corporation and owner Rupert Murdoch. Advertiser boycotts contributed to the closure of the News of the World on 10 July, ending 168 years of publication. [Wikipedia](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_International_phone_hacking_scandal)
At present there is an Enquiry being conducted by Lord Justice Leveson on issues of media regulation raised by the News International phone hacking scandal. Both Prime Minister David Cameron and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt are under fire to explain close links and favouritisms towards Murdoch’s bid to take over BSkyB, which would have further concentrated the already disproportionate influence he has over British media. The Prime Minister admitted that some of his contacts with Rupert Murdoch’s media empire were “embarrassing” but denied wrongdoing and is resisting calls for Mr Hunt’s resignation after compromising evidence has emerged from his office.
Previous collaborations between Murdoch and British Prime Ministers famously include Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Ofcom, the British media regulator, dared challenge the mighty News Corp which in turn began a campaign against the regulator. Ten days later David Cameron announced that Ofcom’s role would be considerably downgraded.
So, would Murdoch have apologised for the illegal and unethical behaviour of his newspaper’s employees if he had not been caught? Highly unlikely, and he is trying to shed responsibility by throwing some of his old associates to the hounds.
**The Media: Information, education, forming public opinion, hiring and firing politicians, making money.**
Who owns the Media? Powerful conglomerates have been forming through mergers and acquisitions to dominate Print, On Line and TV/Cable media. Their role as supporters of the prevailing economic system cannot be put in doubt. They also educate the public through biased reporting of violence into believing that this is the only methodology to achieve much cherished objectives. I shall not list here all the major players (google, bing or yahoo “Who Owns the Media” and you will have more information than you can read in a day) but would like to point out a few interesting bits.
“While the European Union enforces common regulations for environmental protection, consumer protection and human rights, it has none for media pluralism. … In October 2009, a European Union Directive was proposed to set for all member states common and higher standards for media pluralism, right to information and freedom of expression. The proposal was put to a vote in the European Parliament and rejected by just three votes. The directive was supported by the liberal-centrists, the progressives and the green party, and was opposed by the European People’s Party. Unexpectedly, the Irish liberals made exception by voting against the directive, and later revealed that they had been pressured by the Irish right-wing government to do so.” [Wikipedia](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentration_of_media_ownership)
The same article quotes that “Arms company Dassault owns 82% of the Socpresse, which controls conservative Le Figaro (in which the Carlyle Group previously had a 40% stake), as well as L’Expres.”
The Metro newspaper, read for free by millions of people in more than 20 countries, is in the UK a subsidiary of Conservative supporter Daily Mail. Whilst only committed right wingers would acknowledge reading such paper, Metro is casually thumbed by 3.5 million commuters of all political leanings in “about 20 mins”.
[Freepress website](http://www.freepress.net/ownership/chart) gives some estimates of the profits made by media conglomerates, just in case there is any doubt about their ultimate purpose.
**Biased political influence disguised as Freedom of the Press**
It is certainly true that dictatorial governments restrict Press Freedom, part of the freedom of expression enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but when governments defy neoliberal dogma through criticism of the internationally dominated media or by attempting to break up such monopolies this is immediately seen as a challenge to press freedom and is often denounced by bona fide organisations of journalists. Venezuela, Ecuador and Argentina have gone through such processes. Evo Morales suffered a campaign of misinformation from Bolivian (and Spanish) media as soon as he started the process of recovering his country resources.
Perhaps an interesting point to debate in the forthcoming Global Media Forum organised by the Deutsche Welle in Bonn in June is precisely the role of investigative journalism in looking into such cases in order to have a more complete picture, rather than echoing mechanically the frenzied propaganda of the big media corporations.
**The changing Morphology of News distribution**
Traditionally the Media is a one way channel, and as such, it has two parts: the Emitter and the Recipient. It is very much dependent on the state of mind of the recipient that the piece of news will be thoroughly analysed or uncritically and (almost) subliminally swallowed. As the events organised by the Occupy Movement for May 12th and 15th approach we can remind ourselves of a recent “*indignados*” slogan which read: “if you are asleep you may dream, but if you are awake you can *ACT*”. It has never been in the best interest of politicians to have a well awake audience and much of the media has colluded with this strategy. The pervasive consumerist and celebrity culture promoted as “news” point in this direction.
New Media, imperfect as it may be with privacy and other issues, is creating a way of receiving information which is multichannel: we get information from several friends that grabbed it from different sources, interactive: we can respond to blogs, newspapers articles and TV presentations, or recirculate news with our own comments, and biased towards the interests of recipients rather than the emitter. In fact, the recipient/emitter division becomes largely blurred. Time will tell, but it is possible that these changes may become in themselves factors in elevating the level of consciousness of the population, as well as breaking the big News Corporations monoply.