Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Rupert Murdoch is at it again - after Brexit in the UK

As the UK ponders next steps about removing itself from the European Union it is becoming clear that the News Corporation, News International "newspapers" owned by Rupert Murdoch have had an important role in influencing public opinion.

Of course, it is not the newspapers and their journalistic editorial staff, but the owner who seeks to influence public opinion in favor of his preferred outcomes. Mr Murdoch has a strong record of being an interventionist owner, of using his newpapers and since 1996, Fox News, his cable television channel, to influence politics in the UK, the US and Australia. 

Media and journalism scholars in the liberal tradition have argued that this is a morally repugnant abuse of ownership rights. That argument hardly holds up. Liberals embody a fantasy of objectivity in journalism, all the while steering clear of major social issues deemed of little interest to their readership.  

One example is the rise of the one percent, who have flourished due to tax laws that help them avoid contributing to the public interest and society, except through self-serving charities and philanthropy, on which they decide. Few media outlets challenge the importance of sustaining a progressive taxation base that redistributes wealth across the citizenry. Instead, greed and self-interest are considered inherently righteous. (The end of this default position in the US emerged with the rise of Bernie Sanders, who made economic justice a hallmark of his campaign). 

Rupert Murdoch's media empire has contributed to this consolidation of unfairness and injustice around the world. He has no shame in promoting politicians and political parties that promote this ideology. 

It is worth noting that Mr Murdoch has been an active protagonist for conservative causes for years, since he set about disabling the journalism unions in the UK during Margaret Thatcher's time as Prime Minister in the 1980s. Before that he set about undoing the Australian Labor Party Government of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in Australian in 1975, a party whose election his national newspaper The Australian, had previously supported.   

Mr Murdoch's hand can be seen in his influence on two major British newspapers, The Times and The Sun. According to Roy Greenslade, writing in The Guardian on July 6, their editorials in favor of a new Tory leader showed disturbing uniformity in support of one candidate.  In reaching his conclusion, Greensland asks:

Am I being overly conspiracist in detecting Rupert Murdoch pulling strings at his two newspapers? Or is it mere coincidence that Times editor John Witherow and Sun editor Tony Gallagher reached the same opinion, and used the same phrases, to fight the good fight on behalf of Gove?

The answers are probably obvious. 

However, what caught my eye was a statement in the Comments section of the same Guardian article. (This section, indeed the entire Guardian enterprise, has been heavily criticized of late for cutting and editing comments and for its support of anemic Labour Party policies, promoting the launch of Off-Guardian... but that is another story.) 

 As Joseph Reagle noted in his recent MIT book, Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters and Manipulators of the Web, much media commentary says a lot about how some members of the public feel about pressing issues. In this "trollplex," writers looking for an opportunity to "vent" their prejudices as trolls say anything, mostly hurtful, generally destructive and in line with the increasing barbarity of the times. 

Jacob Weisberg noted in "Are we hopelessly hooked?" his comments about of the book in The New York Review of Books (February 25, 2016): "It's a world devoid of empathy."       

The Guardian comment that captured my attention came from an Anonymous contributor named:


I once asked Rupert Murdoch why he was so opposed to the European Union.  

'That’s easy,' he replied. 'When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.'

This is a terrific piece of evidence. I wish the author would reveal him or herself, to authenticate the quote. It helpfully consolidates the criticism of Murdoch's attitude to his ownership rights to interference, not to mention the value of the European Union as a force that is less beholden to petty national concerns and the selfish interests of individuals. (This does not appear to apply to the influence of German and French financial institutions in the EU).

Much more could be said about this matter, especially the important task of finding politicians and political parties who can work out how to resist and deny Mr Murdoch's unhealthy influence. For the time being that appears unlikely.