Thursday, July 21, 2011

Placing Murdoch - and Britain - In Perspective

David Cameron and Rupert Murdoch and all their minions are running a PR campaign on the News International scandal, telling people to keep it "in perspective."  It's not really a big deal or at least that's how they want the British public to see it.

The Guardian's Seumas Milne took up the Cameron/Murdoch challenge and wrote an excellent "perspective" piece on what this scandal really means:

As the cast of hacking victims, blaggers and blackmailers has lengthened, and the details of the incestuous payments and job-swapping between News International, government and Scotland Yard become more complex, it's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture that is now emerging.
If it were not for the uncovering of this cesspit, the Cameron government would be preparing to nod through the outright takeover of BSkyB by News International, taking its dominance of Britain's media and political world into Silvio Berlusconi territory. But what has been exposed now goes well beyond the hacking of murder victims and dead soldiers' families – or even the media itself. The scandal has lifted the lid on how power is really exercised in 21st-century Britain – in which the unreformed City and its bankers play a central part.

Murdoch's overweening political influence has long been recognised, from well before Tony Blair flew to Australia in 1995 to pay public homage at his corporate court. What has been less well understood is how close-up and personal the pressure exerted by his organisation has been throughout public life. The fear that those who crossed him would be given the full tabloid treatment over their personal misdemeanours, real or imagined, has proved to be a powerful Mafia-like racket.

It was the warning that News International would target their personal lives that cowed members of the Commons culture and media committee over pressing their investigation into phone hacking too vigorously before the last election. Barely a fortnight ago, Ed Miliband was warned that Murdoch's papers would "make it personal" after he broke with the political-class omerta towards the company. The same vow of silence meant that when Rebekah Brooks told MPs in 2003 her organisation had "paid the police for information", the bribery admission sank like a stone.

The Sopranos style is deeply embedded in the Murdoch dynasty. When the New Labour culture secretary Tessa Jowell broke up with her husband in 2006 as he faced Berlusconi-linked corruption charges (he was later cleared), Brooks took her out, letting her cry on her shoulder – just as News International was hacking into the couple's phone.

...Murdoch is a case apart, not only because of his commanding position in both print and satellite TV, but because of the crucial part he played in cementing Margaret Thatcher's political power and then shaping a whole era of New Labour/Tory neoliberal consensus that delivered enfeebled unions, privatisation and the Iraq war. His role in breaking the print unions at Wapping in the 1980s by sacking 5,000 mostly low-paid workers is still hailed in parts of the media as a brave blow for quality journalism.

It was nothing of the kind. The golden age of new titles never materialised, and it's certainly no coincidence that journalists were prevailed upon to resort to systematic illegality in a company that has refused to recognise independent trade unions ever since. Over those years, News International has used its grip on the political class to rewrite media regulation in its own image. As we now know, it has also suborned politicians and the police and operated as a freelance security service – not to expose the abuse of power, but to carry it out.

These revelations should ram home the reality that Britain has become a far more corrupt country than many realise. Much of that has been driven by the privatisation-fuelled revolving door culture that gives former ministers and civil servants plum jobs in the companies they were previously regulating.

No comments: