James Murdoch: The Rand Paul of Media
Unlike his father (who was merely the son of a millionaire) and was an outsider with an Australian twang when he came to the snooty UK newspaper scene of the late 60s, James Murdoch is the son of a billionaire, speaks with a horrible Blair-like transatlantic twinge, and has the smug permatan look of the new apparatchiks - the MBA/Kinsey/Davos set who run the world without roots in any particular county.
But two years ago he announced his plan to destroy my country's freedom of speech. His father had already nearly destroyed our press after 30 years of downmarket sleaze and broadsheet censorship. But our broadcasting media were still relatively intact. In his now infamous McTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh Film and TV Festival 2009, James Murdoch set out his vision.
A radical reorientation of the regulatory approach is necessary if dynamism and innovation is going to be central to the UK media industry.
Er... Sounds boring I know. But after the speech writer had padded out the jargon and thrown in some obtuse and irrelevant quotations of Darwin, Murdoch Jnr announced his real target - the global and domestic brand of the BBC.
There is a land-grab, pure and simple, going on - and in the interests of a free society it should be sternly resisted. The land grab is spear-headed by the BBC. The scale and scope of its current activities and future ambitions is chilling.
Yes, chilling. You read it right. This is the Newscorp executive who already owns 40 percent of the Print Journalism in the UK, basically paving the way for his now abandoned takeover of BSkyB - larger than the BBC in terms of revenue. Of course, he couldn't just say 'our paywalls aren't working so take BBC online down'. No, like US libertarians, he had to dress his naked self interest in the rhetoric of 'freedom':
There is a word for this.
It's not one that the system likes to hear, but let's be honest: the right word is authoritarianism and it has always been part of our system....
Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market makes it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the internet....
We seem to have decided as a society to let independence and plurality wither. To let the BBC throttle the news market and then get bigger to compensate.
Plurality and Independence? So great to hear these words from you James, you arch monopolist. But surely you can't get any more hyperbolical....
For hundreds of years people have fought for the right to publish what they think.
Yet today the threat to independent news provision is serious and imminent....
Sixty years ago George Orwell published 1984. Its message is more relevant now than ever.
Please... please... don't bring one of my heroes, the democratic socialist George Orwell to support your fatuous defence of privilege, your dad's cosying up to the Chinese Government. Please don't go there...
As Orwell foretold, to let the state enjoy a near-monopoly of information is to guarantee manipulation and distortion.
We must have a plurality of voices and they must be independent. Yet we have a system in which state-sponsored media - the BBC in particular - grow ever more dominant.
That process has to be reversed.
Oh. You went there.
Well, that was 2009, and by that point Newscorp had the backing of David Cameron, then Conservative Party Leader and putative Prime Minister. Andy Coulson, editor of the News of the World during the height of his hacking scandals, was installed as his press supremo. The deal had been done. Indeed, weeks after this scary lecture, Cameron's response was to describe a 'bonfire of the quangos' and the first regulatory body he mentioned dismantling was Ofcom - the broadcasting regulator. On coming to office last May, Rupert Murdoch was one of the first visitors to Number 10, and one of the Coalition Government's least talked about and vicious acts was cutting the BBC's budget by 16 percent overnight.
James got his blood money. None of this is a coincidence. But he didn't managed to complete his newspaper monopoly with a broadcasting one.... Thanks to two MPs and one tenacious Guardian journalist.
Murdochification of News 1: The Criminal-Media-Nexus and Self Censorship*
*according to former Prime Minister Gordon Brown
But James' florid ridiculous speech is worth examining because it reveals the deeper ideology of libertarian/commercial thinking which justifies any means in pursuit of profit. One of the conclusions of that speech was
The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.
James claims there is a 'market in news' - which there surely is - but then elides to the illogical inversion: therefore all news is a market
As I've debated with right wing apologists and News International apparatchiks ever since: you cannot have a pure market in news. Free access to impartial information - whether election results or reporting of business - is the precondition of a democracy. If news was purely driven by the profit motive it would lead to hacking, blackmail, blagging, corruption and crime...
Oh wait. What happened the News of the World last week? Why are apologies all over the UK papers? QED. But let's not pretend this Murdochification of News hasn't happened in the US too. As Adweek explores in detail: Murdoch Maelstrom Comes West: Did News Corp. properties break any U.S. laws?
The criminality of many of Murdoch's news operations in the UK is now subject to multiple inquiries - including our largest current police operation - and will lead to further convictions, as might well the DOJ investigations just commenced in the US. But there's something more to the Murdoch operation than criminality: it's the completely 'chilling effect' (to use James' own words) on independent coverage and journalistic standards.
Fox New's inability to comment on this has already begun to make it a laughing stock, and even occasioned a rare criticism from CNN. But here's a major US Trader, Terry Hill, talking about his recent experience with an interview on Britain's Sky Channel, owned only 39 percent.
In the Temple of Doom by Terry Hill
The interviewer from Sky demonstrated a blatant pro Murdoch bias.
I posed the question to her that I am the CEO of a public company. If I had indulged in the following:
1. Paid $500m for MySpace and then sold it for $35m;
2. Paid $5.7bn for Dow Jones and written off $2.8bn;
3. Paid $615m for my daughter's business;
5. My company's shares had underperformed for 15 years;
6. And some of my staff had engaged in criminal phone hacking and bribing Police officers and this had been covered up by my management.
I think the shareholders would have had me fired.
So I asked, why hasn't Murdoch been fired...?
...My responses about the Murdoch situation were clearly not what the Sky interviewer was expecting or wanted to hear. She mounted a defence of Rupert Murdoch's achievements in building a 'big empire'. The word 'empire' was a Freudian slip....
The interviewer ended by cutting me off after she said she would like to take me through the achievements of James Murdoch and Elisabeth Murdoch. I would have welcomed that debate on live TV, especially in light of Elisabeth Murdoch's recent achievement in getting the company her father controls to pay $615m for her business, largely with other people's money. The fact that the interviewer, who works for Sky where James Murdoch is Chairman, thought she was capable of any objectivity on this subject not only beggars belief, it also shows how pervasive and pernicious the influence of the Murdoch's had become.
This situation has to change.
And in today's New York Times is a brilliant takedown by Joe Nocera of the language of casuistry, censorship and self-censorship that has vitiated the Wall Street Journal's coverage of event The Journal Becomes Fox-ified
On Friday, however, the coverage went all the way to craven. The paper published an interview with Murdoch that might as well have been dictated by the News Corporation public relations department.....The two most obvious questions - When did Murdoch first learn of the phone hacking at The News of the World? And when did he learn that reporters were bribing police officers for information? - went unasked. The Journal reporter had either been told not to ask those questions, or instinctively knew that he shouldn't. It is hard to know which is worse.
When you're criticised for your ethics by Larry Flynt, then you have really limbo danced under any professional standard.
The way in which we push those boundaries, however, is where we differ. I test limits by publishing controversial material and paying people who are willing to step forward and expose political hypocrisy. Murdoch's minions, on the other hand, pushed limits by allegedly engaging in unethical or criminal activity: phone hacking, bribery, coercing criminal behavior and betraying the trust of their readership. If News Corp.'s reported wrongdoings are true, what Murdoch's company has been up to does not just brush against boundaries - it blows right past them.
So beyond the criminal in the known activities of UK papers, and the potential activities of US papers, we have the ne plus ultra of libertarian thinking. James Murdoch quoted Orwell as an attack on the BBC, and yet as senior exec of Newscorp he has overseen some of the most craven newspeak I've ever seen, across multiple channels.
A libertarian once again ends up defending authoritarian censorship on a par with Comical Ali, Egyptian State TV before Mubarak fell, or the Czech Communist apparatchiks in Milan Kundera's Book of Laughter and Forgetting, who airbrushed away an out-of-favour Politburo member from a photo, but forgot to get rid of his hat, which just floated in space as an absurd reminder of how people in power can make themselves into laughing stocks.
Oh - and James Murdoch oversaw the payment of millions of pounds hush money to phone hacking victims.
Him next please