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The News Of The World Scandal: Murdoch And News International In The Dock

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford
Rupert Murdoch

 At long last, Rupert Murdoch and his News International empire is feeling the heat over the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

I hope this spells the beginning of the end for Murdoch's near suffocating hold over much of the Western media. Over the last two decades or more, the most powerful media owner ever to emerge has built up a huge empire that includes numerous newspaper titles, television and radio stations around the world (including in New Zealand and his native Australia). Murdoch's company owns some of the best known publications in the world including the UK newspapers The Times and The Sun. One of his most famous television mouthpieces is the neoconservative Fox News channel in the US.

Through controlling a vast number of media outlets, Murdoch has been able to influence political debate and decisionmaking, particularly in the UK and increasingly in the US. British prime ministers such as Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Gordon Brown have been built up and then torn down at his mere whim. It was reported this week, for example, that former prime minister Tony Blair regularly phoned Murdoch and, in particular, he conversed with the Aussie media mogul just days before the Iraq War in 2003. The Murdoch empire backed the Iraq War to the hilt.

Now, the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World threatens to undo his dominance.To be honest, I do support good investigative journalism but I am appalled as a freelance journalist and blogger with the extremely unsavoury and unethical actions of some journalists at that paper years ago. Its then editor Andy Coulson and some journalists have been accused of illegally hacking into the phones of politicians, sports stars, members of the Windsor clan, entertainers, and (worst of all) the families of dead or wounded soldiers and even murder victims. These actions have led to individuals and families rightfully suing News International for tens of millions of dollars. The scandal has also triggered a full scale police investigation that could produce one of the highest profile criminal cases for years. It has had ramifications for David Cameron's Tory-Lib Dem Coalition as well given that Coulson was the PM's press secretary until the first hacking allegations surfaced at the beginning of this year.

Rupert Murdoch has reportedly jetted into London to deal with the crisis himself. This comes as his News International British chief executive Rebekah Brooks fights to keep her job and as Cameron (in a politically cynical move more than anything else) has called for Murdoch's son and heir apparent James to face police questioning. Already, Murdoch has shown himself to be brutal in his decision to close the News of the World as of this Sunday, making nearly 200 journalists and the current editor (all innocent of any involvement in the mid-2000s hacking scandal) redundant. Murdoch's move to close the newspaper (which is Britain's top selling Sunday publication) is nothing but a heavy handed response to try and cling on to power. 

The British Government (as should all governments including New Zealand's where Murdoch has investments) should look at imposing further restrictions on foreign media ownership, encourage the end of media monopolies by encouraging more private companies (including worker and community controlled media) into the market and promoting good media ethics whilst at the same time protecting the right to free speech and investigative journalism. 

If this scandal continues to run, then it is nothing but ironic that one of the great staples of the News International empire (promoting scandals) could well sink it. And if that happens, I wouldn't mind seeing the back of Murdoch and his family as that would improve (in some small way) the health of Western democracy.




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