This House believes Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to run an international media corporation

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation is a multinational media corporation with interests in books, cable and satellite television, films, magazines, newspapers and websites. It is influential around the world and in its portfolio News Corporation includes very influential channels and publications. Fox News is perhaps the best known of these for its right wing perspective in the United States while in the UK the Sun, a tabloid newspaper, claimed to have won the 1992 election for John Major proclaiming it was ‘The Sun wot won it’.[1] As a result of this perception of influence politicians from around the world have wooed Rupert Murdoch in the hope that he will have his media organisations support their party in elections.

News Corporation has been involved in an on-going scandal about hacking into the phones of celebrities, politicians and other people who were in the news in order to obtain stories which initially came to light in 2006 when Clive Goodman the News of the World Royal editor and Glen Mulcaire, a private investigator were arrested. However despite it coming out that numerous public figures were hacked the allegations were not followed up. However in 2011 with new investigations and revelations of much more extensive phone hacking in rival newspapers such as the Guardian News International accepted that it was in some cases liable for breaches of privacy and offered an unreserved apology.[2] The Leveson Inquiry was launched on 13 July into the role of the press and police in the phone hacking scandal and the regulation of the press.[3] At the same time the Commons committee on Culture, Media and Sport was investigating whether the committee had been misled by witnesses during the phone hacking scandal. It published its conclusions on 1st May 2012.

Behind this question is both a general question of whether Murdoch is a fit person to be running such a large and influential media conglomerate around the world or whether he has been misusing that power and a more local context within the UK. In the UK the Broadcasting acts of 1990 and of 1996 charges upon Ofcom, the media and communications watchdog, the duty to distribute broadcasting licences and says Ofcom “shall not grant a licence to any person unless they are satisfied that he is a fit and proper person to hold it”.[4] However the broadcasting acts do not define exactly what is ‘fit and proper’ but the actions of controlling directors and shareholders are taken into account; as such Murdoch could threaten the ability of the companies he controls to be considered fit.[5]

Read and watch 'Judge grills Murdoch: the uses of transparency' on Free Speech Debate

 

Title 
Murdoch is morally unfit to run a powerful media company.
Point 

Those running media corporations should be morally upright people who control their media companies in the public interest as these are organisations that potentially have a lot of influence through their control of information. This is however not at all how Rupert Murdoch ran News Corp or his newspapers.

Murdoch has been running his empire in pursuit of power and to advance a right wing agenda.[1] His influence was such that even naturally left wing parties such as New Labour under Tony Blair stuck to right wing or wing orthodoxies in order to keep the support of the Murdoch press.[2] Murdoch was therefore pushing narrow interests rather than the public interest. Murdoch’s News Corporation has shown their lack of moral scruples not just by engaging in industrial scale hacking but also by its determination to use its contacts to close down investigations by parliament or the police as well as being willing to destroy evidence and lie when giving evidence. Tom Watson MP has gone so far as to accuse Murdoch of being “the first mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise”.[3]

The attitude of the person at the top towards how their company and its staff should conduct themselves informs how they do conduct themselves and engage in their business. It is the owners and the management that create the corporate culture which in Murdoch tabloids meant profits at all costs and doing anything to get a story.[4]

[1] Puttnam, David, ‘News Corporation has sought to undermine elected governments’, guardian.co.uk, 28 April 2012.

[2] Holehouse, Matthew, ‘The Blairs and the Murdochs: a special relationship’, The Telegraph, 22 February 2012.

[3] The Economist, ‘Stringfellows: A British MP’s long-awaited account of investigating the Murdoch empire’, 28 April 2012.

[4] Grayson, David, ‘Phone hacking: what corporate responsibility could have done to stop it’, Guardian Professional, 25 July 2011.

Counterpoint 

It is unfair to blame the culture in a newspaper, only one among many in Murdoch’s empire, on Rupert Murdoch. With hundreds of publications to control Murdoch would never be able to set corporate culture for every paper. Nor is it correct to accuse Murdoch of running his papers in pursuit of power rather than profit; Murdoch has been unusual in succeeding in recent years in still making profits from selling news. Murdoch is clearly willing to sometimes make losses, as at the Times which loses £42million a year, but this is not because it maximises his power but because it has international prestige as tabloids don’t.[1]

[1] Northedge, Richard, ‘Will Murdoch quit Britain?’ Prospect, 20 July 2011.

Title 
Lack of control
Point 

Rupert Murdoch has an immense empire and if we believe his testimony obviously did not have as much control over his publications, or take as much responsibility for them, as he should have done. Murdoch himself has claimed “someone took charge of a cover-up we were victim to and I regret that." This was a cover up within the News of the World and News International that kept Murdoch out of the loop and misinformed on phone hacking, showing that he was unable to keep control over his businesses when he was the one with ultimate responsibility for the actions of that company.[1] The commons culture committee concluded that Murdoch was essentially negligent "at all relevant times Rupert Murdoch did not take steps to become fully informed about phone-hacking, he turned a blind eye and exhibited wilful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications."[2]

[1] BBC News, ‘Leveson Inquiry: Murdoch admits missing hacking ‘cover-up’, 26 April 2012.

[2] Culture, Media and Sport Committee, ‘News International and Phone-hacking’, House of Commons, Eleventh Report of the Session 2010-12, Vol.1, 1 May 2012, p.70

Counterpoint 

The head of no large corporation has complete control of their operations. The head of the BBC almost certainly does not know all the policies and everything that is happening in the BBC’s Persian language division. While the head of the company is ultimately responsible it is unrealistic to believe that they will have such day to day control as everyone seems to believe Murdoch had. Murdoch himself explains “the News of the

World is less than 1% of our company. I employ 53,000 people around the world” and points out that in such a big organisation he has to rely on senior managers.[1] This very lack of control is itself a good thing; it ensures that there is decentralisation with most control at the local level with the individual editors of newspapers and programmes.

[1] Culture, Media and Sport Committee, ‘News International and Phone-hacking’, House of Commons, Eleventh Report of the Session 2010-12, Vol.1, 1 May 2012, p.64

Title 
There was a lack of transparency in News Corp
Point 

The Media’s role is to increase transparency and bring others to account. Murdoch himself in his testimony to Leveson said "If we're a transparent society, a transparent democracy, let's have it out there" yet he has been exactly the opposite in terms of accountability and transparency.[1] The House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport has published a report in which it concludes that the culture of the publication, News of the World, was “throughout, until it was too late, was to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators, as they also professed they would do after the criminal convictions.”[2] The strategy was to blame individuals and when such a containment strategy failed to shut down the News of the World so as to protect top bosses.[3] News International was clearly not living up to high standards of transparency.

[1] Porter, Henry, ‘We are rid of Murdoch and that is worth celebrating’, guardian.co.uk, 28 April 2012.

[2] Culture, Media and Sport Committee, ‘News International and Phone-hacking’, House of Commons, Eleventh Report of the Session 2010-12, Vol.1, 1 May 2012, p.84

[3] Culture, Media and Sport Committee, ‘News International and Phone-hacking’, House of Commons, Eleventh Report of the Session 2010-12, Vol.1, 1 May 2012, p.67

Counterpoint 

News organisations cannot be completely transparent if they are to do their job properly and News International is no exception. Such organisations cannot for example reveal their sources as this may sometimes put their sources at risk and would mean that others would not come forward. As part of this news companies need to keep secret how they obtained information. While an attempt by a newspaper to cover up crimes is regrettable this one newspapers actions should not tar the whole company and its other papers.

Title 
Murdoch is effective at selling news
Point 

The first criteria for fitness to control a media company should be the ability to bring people the kind of content that they want to consume at a price they are willing to pay. Murdoch is undoubtedly good at this. When he took over the Sun in 1969 the sun was selling just over a million copies a day but by 1976 circulation was up to 3.7 million.[1] Murdoch has been very successful at selling newspapers, a declining industry, and has been supportive of both down market tabloids and quality broadsheets. That the News of the World up to its closure and The Sun have remained Britain’s most popular newspapers shows Murdoch is an effective media proprietor and fit to bring news to the people. If he was not customers would vote with their money.

[1] ‘The newspaper industry’, Monopolies and Mergers Commission, 1985, p.5

Counterpoint 

The Sun and the News of the World sold newspapers through sensationalism and sex, not content that was in the public interest. As such Murdoch’s success at selling newspapers should not have any bearing on whether he is a fit person to be in charge of a media corporation. 

Title 
Having powerful media companies shields them from interference by governments.
Point 

An independent media is vital for democracy as it is a necessary check on over powerful politicians and government. The ‘fourth estate’ has a vital oversight function over government ensuring that elected representatives uphold their oath of office and really represent those who elected them.[1] In order for the press to be able to remain independent and able to carry out this function it needs to have powerful backers itself. Murdoch is one such backer. Multinational companies with large holdings spread across numerous countries can much easier resist government pressure than national or local newspapers without such backing as they can continue attacking a government regardless of the pressure an individual government puts upon it as the owners. Murdoch by making politicians dance to his tune was doing exactly what the press is supposed to do; preventing governments from being too powerful by appearing to have some power to bring the government down if necessary. If this translated into too much influence this was the fault of politicians not Mr Murdoch.[2]

[1] Center for Democracy and Governance Bureau for Global Programs, Field Support, and Research, ‘The Role of Media in Democracy: A Strategic Approach’, U.S. Agency for International Development, June 1999, p.3

[2] Wolff, Michael, ‘Rupert Murdoch before the Leveson inquiry’, guardian.co.uk, 23 April 2012.

Counterpoint 

Just as with any method of control there need to be checks and balances on the media itself in order to ensure that the media remains honest. As Lord Justice Leveson put it in his opening remarks “The press provides an essential check on all aspects of public life. That is why any failure within the media affects all of us. At the heart of this Inquiry, therefore, may be one simple question: who guards the guardians?”[1] Murdoch has presided over a media company and newspapers that have not remained honest and have been too close to the politicians they are meant to be holding in check.

[1] ‘Background’, The Leveson Inquiry.

Title 
Murdoch does not seek to influence politics.
Point 

It is a myth that Rupert Murdoch influences politics or seeks to get his way with powerful politicians. As Murdoch himself said in the Leverson Inquiry "I've never asked a prime minister for anything.” Instead it is politicians who go out of their way to impress people in the press. Even when it comes to the editorial lines of his newspapers Murdoch did not always influence them, he controlled the Sun but not the stance of the Times.[1]

[1] Holton, Kate and Prodhan, Georgina, ‘Murdoch denies playing puppet master to British elite’, Reuters, 25 April 2012, 

Counterpoint 

We should not take Rupert Murdoch’s word for it that he does not seek to influence politicians and does not influence the editorial line of his newspapers. Andrew Neil, a former editor of the Sunday times argues Murdoch "had a quiet, remorseless, sometimes threatening way of laying down the parameters within which you were expected to operate ... stray too far too often from his general outlook and you will be looking for a new job."[1] This may not be complete control of the editorial line but it is certainly influencing it.

[1] Barr, Robert, ‘Praise, scepticism for Murdoch in UK newspapers’, Associated Press, 26 April 2012.

Bibliography 

Ash, Timothy Garten, 'Judge grills Murdoch: the uses of transparency', Free Speech Debate, 21 May 2012, http://freespeechdebate.com/en/2012/05/judge-grills-mogul-the-uses-of-transparency/

 

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