Curing Murdoch-aphobia: A Lesson in media democracy

Rupert Murdoch has served democracy far better than most of his contemporaries - so why is there so much anti-Murdoch vitriol?

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Why the anti-Murdoch vitriol on London's streets?
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Peter C. Glover
On 23 April 2012 11:22

Old man Murdoch flies in to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry this week. Expect the usual sniping from across the mass media to begin even as his plane touches down. Why the anti-Murdoch vitriol? There’s not a jot of evidence that Rupert knew about the culture of phone hacking. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise if you consider that, as media moguls go, RM has always been remarkably hands-off when it comes to day-to-day affairs.

The breathtaking scale of the media hypocrisy becomes clear when the facts reveal that old man Murdoch has done more for global media democracy than the rest of the mass media put together.

It was the U.S. mainstream media (MSM) that gave birth to the first semblance of a serious anti-Murdoch media alliance. In the wake of the meteoric rise of Murdoch’s Fox TV News on cable they didn’t pause to ask themselves “why the Fox success?” They merely despised it. It was leading liberal media mogul, Ted Turner who famously predicted that his CNN would “squish Murdoch like a bug” in the ratings war. But it was CNN’s ratings that Murdoch ended up wiping from beneath his shoe – en route to seeing Fox dominating U.S. cable news and threatening the networks, as it does today.

Heaven forbid that audiences who ‘vote with the remote’ might know better than ideological media elites which news media voices might be “most trusted”.

Meanwhile, due north, much of the Canadian broadcast media jumped on the anti-Murdoch bandwagon, deprecatingly dubbing Quebecor Media’s launch of (conservative) Sun TV, “Fox News North”. Not that Murdoch’s News Corps are in any way connected with the Quebecor/Sun initiative, you understand. It seems the mere shadow of Fox’s success, due south, is enough to spook Canada’s left-dominated broadcast media hen house.

Back in Blighty, much of the broadcast media caught a bad dose of Murdoch-aphobia when, in June 2010, the Digger proposed a bid of £8 billion to buy the 60 percent of BSkyB (British Sky Broadcasting Group) he did not already own. The move prompted an unprecedented coalition of the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV broadcasters, and much of the left and some of the right-leaning press, to sign a joint letter calling for the government to stop Murdoch gaining 100 per cent control of Sky.

Leaving aside the outrageous involvement of the BBC – a public service broadcaster butting into private sector arrangements – Britain’s media regulator, Ofcom, acknowledged that Murdoch’s 40 percent majority stake in Sky allowed him the right to appoint its chief executive (son James is its CEO), and thus strongly influence its culture. It simply never happened.  Editorially Sky has always been nothing more than the BBC in sneakers.

The problem for the anti-Murdoch alliance in Britain is that media rules have always considered the broadcast and print media as separate entities. But Murdoch’s pioneering ownership across the trinity of broadcast, print (he owns The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and now Sun on Sunday) and his move into broadband has led to the charge that a full Sky takeover would jeopardise “media plurality”.

What’s spooking some is that through cross-platform subscriptions and advertising, News Corp. has the potential to enhance its market clout even further by, say, bundling newspaper sales for The Times, Sunday Times et al into a joint subscription package – something no other media group has the clout to do.  

Fears over “journalistic integrity”, however, just don’t stack up in Britain. Even with his son, James, as Sky CEO, there was no discernible ideological and editorial differences between Sky, BBC and ITV; all three lean left in their anti-US, anti-Israel, anti-Christian news reporting and analysis. Equally, Murdoch’s Sun newspaper supported New Labour not the Conservatives during the Blair years; years at a time when the Conservative Party was much further right-of-centre than it has become under Cameron’s ‘liberal conservativism’.

Not that the anti-Murdoch media war being waged against News Corp is a “fair and balanced” struggle about democracy and genuine debate in the public square – if only it were. If propaganda and bias were really the concern in Britain, the BBC would have lost its ‘public service’ broadcast licence years ago. In fact, the notion of the BBC serving its public in an unbiased manner is demonstrably untrue. Whole websites exist to document the BBC’s left/ liberal culture of bias in its reporting on Israel, climate, poverty, race and religion. Even its own internal reports confirm its on-going biases.

Time and again the BBC has to be told to be more balanced in its coverage of the climate issue, for instance. Against this background, concerns over “journalistic standards” at Sky, especially its possible “Fox-ification”, are laughable.

Many in the media have a short memory. In the 1970s it was Murdoch who took on and broke the choking grip of Britain’s Fleet Street unions. Without him British print journalists would still be elbow deep in ink and quill pens. It was Murdoch’s BSkyB group too that finally broke the tedious BBC/ITV duopoly introducing genuine competition.

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