A 2nd defence of Murdoch

The accusations against Rupert Murdoch’s empire have always been numerous. But not all of them stack up. Here goes at unpicking a few..

Charge #1

Murdoch’s British empire is too big and should be broken up and (suggests Labour) anything like it forbidden in law. The main defence is that Murdoch’s share of the market in opinion was not huge and would not have been much increased by his being allowed to own the rest of BSkyB.

Charge #2

Murdoch wielded too much power over politicians. The main defence is that Murdoch’s electoral power may have been large because he was one of the few media powerhouses whose voting recommendation was floating. (In this, he was a bit like the FT.) However, he seemed to follow important British voting trends rather than lead them. A second defence is that his strength flowed from the weakness of politicians: the answer is not to hobble him but to strengthen them. A third defence is that politicians have had a morbid fear of other media forces as well as of Murdoch. Didn’t Alastair Campbell (ex-Mirror) go to war with the BBC? Weren’t New Labour famously in dread of the Daily Mail?

Charge #3

Murdoch wielded power by putting his people in powerful jobs in The Establishment (Andy Coulson, for instance) and by giving certain ex-Establishment figures (ex-policemen for instance) nice places in his regime. One defence might be (a) Murdoch didn’t do any corrupt placing and (b) that ex-Murdoch or ex-Establishment people weren’t doing Murdoch’s bidding at any point. We’ll see. A second defence is that there is a large traffic between ex-media people and the worlds of commerce and politics: whether RM’s part in this trade is any worse than any others’ will presumably soon emerge.

Charge #4

This is a tough one. There is a feeling that the police did not pursue Murdoch because they were beholden to him and frightened of him. For now, I am inclined to think that the lack of pursuit involved agreement by many players – the CPS, for instance – with no obvious pro-Murdoch tendencies for this charge to stick. Again, we’ll see.

Charge # 5

It’s a commonplace to say that the cover-up following the hacking scandal was potentially the greater sin, not least because it may turn out that the sinfulness became more corporate. It isn’t a defence, but it’s worth saying, that this charge is one of quite ordinary corporate scuzziness. I mean that it doesn’t have much to do with whether Murdoch posed particular problems qua his being a media-owner.

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Publication date

17 July 2011