Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rupert Murdoch under scrutiny

As the UK phone hacking case draws to a close in the Old Bailey courtrooms, the story takes another direction that suggests more grist for the media studies mill.

In this twist, the news on 25 June 2014, that Scotland Yard had postponed interviewing Mr Murdoch but would follow up soon with an interview, suggests a change in the power landscape. Police to Interview Murdoch

The English establishment has generally tolerated News Corporation and its offshoots because he could be considered as sometimes helpful to their interests and often good for business. He supported most if not all British war excursions - most prominently the violent Malvinas / Falkland Islands interaction with Argentina - and was the maker of Prime Ministers from Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair, and as always, his enterprises made money.

The English establishment will put up with a lot of disturbance as long as their supremacy at the top of the local social order is not challenged. Phone hacking could even be tolerated as something akin to sport. As I have noted here previously, for media students (and the citizenry) the story was about the emergence of new media and the absence of regulations that were written to reflect the networked society.

While libertarians may defend the freedom of the Internet, resisting regulation as "government intrusion," their anti-statist approach rings hollow and would ring loud and clear if they were the ones to be surveilled, have their privacy invaded and selves mangled through the press.

When the UK police caught up with the phone hacking behaviour of journalists and editors at News of the World and Sun, Murdoch and his son James apologized in public at the Levenson Inquiry. "The most humble day of my life," said Murdoch senior.

The news that Murdoch may be interviewed by British police suggests that a new avenue of scrutiny has opened up, that is interviewing the owners and managers of media organizations. If this continues, the UK regulatory system may finally be maturing into a regulator of substance. Perhaps no longer will the English political establishment give the appearance of being either willing supplicants to News International or to being bullied by the Australian-American.  

If Murdoch senior is interviewed - an event whose content is unlikely to yield anything of substance - it will at least enliven debate about media and the abuse by owners of their power over public opinion.