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

Murdoch’s editor at The Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie, entering the media fray on his employers behalf points out, “The reality is that Sky owns very few of the channels it broadcasts and many of the stations have minute audiences.” No shrinking violet, MacKenzie goes on to describe Murdoch’s rivals as mostly “business duds” compared to Murdoch. He has a point.

But it is Simon Jenkins – no friend to the proposed Murdoch bid and writing in the strongly left wing Guardian – who hit the nail on the head, asserting: “Murdoch is the best thing that ever happened to the British media, and they hate it.” Jenkins goes on, “The truth is that the British media has been stumbling and grumbling along in Murdoch’s wake, letting him bear the risks and then riding on the back of his success”. Ditto America (via Fox news).

But I believe something much more important is at stake in the relentless campaign against RM: media democracy.

Murdoch-aphobia officially hit Canada in August after it was revealed conservative PM, Stephen Harper had met with Murdoch and Fox president Roger Ailes over lunch in New York City in March 2010.

What the ensuing hue and cry over “Fox News North” boiled down to was that being conservative must disqualified Sun TV from serious news broadcasting and that all Fox-look-alikes were a threat to democracy. But rather than rehearse the arguments of the usual suspects, I would advise reading John Doyle’s excellent “10 things you need to know about Fox News North” which neatly sums up Murdoch-aphobia. Doyle reveals what most detractors of Fox’s success constantly reflect: an intellectual contempt, not just for Fox News, but for Fox’s audience which had the temerity to ‘vote with the remote’.

Doyle, actually defending a charge that CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) is a “left-leaning” public broadcaster, asserts that in any event CBC is not “shoved down anyone’s throat”.  Au contraire. Many may actually prefer not to watch it because they perceive it is biased to the left but, as with the BBC in Britain, conservative Canadian taxpayers would certainly object that left-leaning ideology is being “shoved down” someone’s throat somewhere. Worse, at their expense. A Murdoch takeover would only have given Sky a 22 percent stake of the news audience. The left wing BBC has a 37 percent news audience stake. See what I mean about hypocrisy?

In pursuit of its campaign against the Sky bid, The Guardian, got it wrong yet again, suggesting Murdoch may be “Britain’s Berlusconi”.  Scary stuff. Except that it neatly ignores the fact that Silvio Berlusconi runs an enormous private media empire and Italy’s public broadcaster. It’s a cosy arrangement that Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia satcaster, Editoriale L’Espresso, has consistently attempted to break and yes, you’ve guessed it, to help democratise the (Italian) airwaves.

And if a democracy-supporting media is our prime concern, we need look no further than Rupert Murdoch’s track-record, and specifically the rise of Fox News in the U.S.  We already know that Fox’s audience has elevated it to dominate cable news and threaten the ratings of the network the Big three: NBC, ABC and CBS. It’s not hard to see why. In a Pew Poll of the 2008 U.S. election news coverage Fox News proved to be the least biased. An election in which, by the way, ‘ideologically neutral’ journalists wanted Obama to win by a margin of 8 to 1.

The poll even showed that Fox News coverage was even slightly more critical of John McCain than it was of Barack Obama. Even more surprising, a poll in May 2011 (and for the second year running) revealed Fox News by a considerable distance was America’s “most trusted” news provider.

Whether Murdoch and Fox are right-leaning or not, indeed whether any private sector media organisation is left or right-leaning, is not my concern. Owning up to a particular editorial worldview – as major newspapers once did – does not necessarily lead to unfair coverage.

Anyone actually watching Murdoch’s Fox News, for instance, would be struck by the ding-dong debates between left and right, even among its presenters; something as rare as hen’s teeth in what passes for news analysis in the UK. In the UK, ‘mainstream’ is usually code for ‘liberal-left’ in a news culture where journos have simply stopped doing their job and become cheerleaders for the latest, usually doom-mongering, populist cause.  Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the mainstream news media’s reprehensible attempt to ‘close down’ the public debate on climate science insisting the “science is settled” – a science demonstrably in its infancy. 

The fact is that Murdoch is an astute and opportunistic businessman, well able to identify a gap in the market – often for under-represented, dis-enfranchised, conservative opinion and values. While I do not suggest that Murdoch, or anyone else for that matter, be granted a media ‘carte blanche’ in the name of unfettered capitalism, I do maintain that Rupert Murdoch has served democracy far better than most of his contemporaries.   

As much as the anti-Murdoch, ’know better’ elites might remain in denial, Fox’s democratic rise in the U.S. to ‘most trusted’ status represents a triumph not only for media democracy, but for democracy itself. If only the same could happen in the UK.

Peter C Glover is a British writer and journalist and author. For more go to www.petercglover.com He has no links (paid or otherwise) to the Murdoch group of companies

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