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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

UK: corruption in public life « Previous | |Next »
July 12, 2011

The unfolding consequences of News International's abuse of power keeps getting worse. Royal protection officers suborned! Gordon Brown's bank details and son's medical records allegedly blagged! Scandal spreads to the Sunday Times! News International is fighting a desperate battle as one by one another body is thrown to the pursuing wolves and hungry beasts.

The crisis in Britain---what is being uncovered is the systemic corruption between media, the political class and the police in British public life---is now damaging the wider Murdoch empire. Melanie Phillips is just not happy about some of the celebrity critics of this corruption.

RowsonMMurdoch.jpg Martin Rowson

News Corp's current defence strategy is to say that it was very, very happy to have the BSkyB deal referred to the Competition Commission in order to keep the bid alive. The Cameron Government, which had done everything in its power to avoid the referral, said it would do so. Nick Clegg, the deputy prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, is urging News Corporation to drop its bid for BSkyB altogether. Labour calls for Murdoch to drop his bid for 100% of BSkyB.

The media does appear as the least accountable and most corrupt profession in the UK. In Australia journalists profess to hold commercial and political power to account, but the journalists, especially those who work for the concentrated power of News Ltd in the mediascape, are actually employed as the enforcers of corporate power. Their conservative commentary denounces those people who criticise the interests of corporate power, stamping on new ideas and bullying the powerless. Who would expose News Ltd if one of it's tabloid newspapers did engage in phone hacking in Australia?

Janet Daley in the Telegraph begins to lift the covers on the relationship between the media and politicians, and the way that politics works as a club in the UK.

The truth is that for all its adversarial and investigatory strengths – which are considerable – British political journalism is basically a club to which politicians and journalists both belong. There is a degree of cosy camaraderie between the press and the governing class in this country... It is considered part of my job to take politicians to lunch regularly, and to cultivate them in a way that encourages confidences – just as fraternisation with the media is regarded as an essential aspect of any ambitious politician’s game plan...

Like so many spheres of life in this country – the art world, certain areas of academia and the higher reaches of the legal profession are examples that spring to mind – it is almost impossible to survive in political journalism as an outsider. Which is not to say (as is sometimes thought) that you actually have to have been to school or university with the people you are trying to engage – although that can help – but that you must adopt the manners which prevail in any club: the coded vocabulary, the discreet understandings, the accepted attitudes.

When politics is run as a club, it is so much easier for them to escape challenge or genuine scrutiny of the kind that comes with critical distance: from the outsider’s eye and the voice that can speak without fear of being excluded. Daley adds:
It is this familiarity, this intimacy, this set of shared assumptions … which is the real corruptor of political life. The self-limiting spectrum of what can and cannot be said … the self-reinforcing cowardice which takes for granted that certain vested interests are too powerful to be worth confronting. All of these things are constant dangers in the political life of any democracy.

British journalism as a trade is at the crossroads. Will it be replaced by PR companies?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:31 AM | | Comments (11)


The tabloids aimed at a mass market have been locked into providing entertainment rather than information.In the overlapping age of the internet, information is being consumed on screen rather than in print.The market for newspapers as print shrinks.

"Who would expose News Ltd if one of it's tabloid newspapers did engage in phone hacking in Australia?"

Jason Wilson at the Drum says:

Given the events in Britain, and the even more concentrated power of News Limited in the Australian landscape, a new rationale for the regulation of media diversity presses itself upon us. It is not just about making space for a range of voices in public debate, but about maintaining our capacity to hold to account some of the more powerful institutions in the country.

He adds that demonstrably, in Britain at least, the concentration of power in the hands of News International has had a corrupting influence on other institutions. It's difficult to say how we would find out if the same thing was happening here.

He concludes by saying that we urgently need to have a conversation in Australia about guaranteeing a greater media diversity in the future, in the name of accountability, healthy competition and the maintenance of democracy.

Murdoch has too much power in Australia. 70% of our newspaper market is controlled by News Ltd, the local arm of News Corp, and it also is in possession of monopolies in several markets.The diversity and competition in the media low.

News Ltd is a powerful media corporation. My reading of The Australian indicates that its journalists are paid to keep their own independent and honest views (eg., over the NBN, climate change) out of the newspaper.

How is News Ltd accountable for its actions--eg., its deceptions and misinformation? We have Media Watch on the ABC.

For a start we could dump The Australian Press Council---it is compromised, dodgy and compliant. Its job is to defend newspapers as gatekeepers and the cosy collusions from criticism. Self-regulation doesn't work.

On Media Watch last night Holmes pointed out that in Australia the sort of competition that supposedly led to all this hacking is happening between commercial tv stations. ACA and TT most obviously. Their beat ups are generally worse than the worst newspaper stories, if shorter lived.

That still leaves the problem of News' power and the total lack of any kind of structural restraint. If they haven't been hacking here, it would probably be because they didn't need to.

Nan brings up a striking similarity in Britain to here, in the constitution and operations of the regulator.
The British regulator, from I've read, operates on about the same level of effectuality as Prof Flint's tribunal dealings with Laws and Jones.

Lyn says:
"On Media Watch last night Holmes pointed out that in Australia the sort of competition that supposedly led to all this hacking is happening between commercial tv stations. ACA and TT most obviously. "

Since Murdoch owns all the tabloid newspapers in Australia there is no competition between them. Murdoch owning 70% of the press market is too great a concentration.

On his NYT blog, Paul Krugman remarked: "At this point it’s starting to look as if News Corp is better viewed as a criminal enterprise than as a media organization".

But is this kind of Govt. protection of illegal activity new? Readers of Geoff. Robertson's "The Justice Game" know it's been going on for years. And as for the US, there are so many examples it's impossible to know where to start.

What the media need is a professional regulator that is able to hold up bad journalism to censure and contempt, and to ensure media accountability.

No organisation should have more than a 30% share of any definable media market. When Murdoch controls 70% we cannot expect newspapers to judge, hang and bury their own as The Guardian was able to do in the UK.

Will Hutton in The Guardian says that getting full control of BSkyB, so consolidating all the revenues and profits into News Corp's balance sheet, has become Murdoch's overriding ambition. rowth, a secure future for News Corp and the family's capacity to keep ever more restive shareholders happy, can only come from BSkyB.

He adds that:

Murdoch knows full well [that he] must play for time, keep the bid alive – hence his move inviting a full Competition Commission inquiry – while staving off his shareholders' mounting anxieties with the $5bn share buyback scheme just announced in New York. Britain, he is confident, is ultimately too decadent and its politicians too craven to block him.

Hutton's judgment is that Murdoch is probably right:
The Competition Commission never looks at competition in dynamic terms – inquiring, say, what the market will look like in 2015. Instead, Plod-like, it will observe that in 2011 the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 provide a competitive TV market, so all is well. British institutional shareholders are legendary in world financial markets for their venality and carelessness about their ownership responsibilities; they will always sell to the highest bidder – attitudes enshrined in corporate law. There are no laws requiring diverse media ownership or limiting media concentration. Ofcom is not as powerful as it needs to be. A tight-knit family can make mincemeat of this, even in a corner.

So it's up to the politicians. They need to do more than the usual shepherding Murdoch's bid through while observing the proprieties.

Will they?

Leslie Cannold, writing in The Drum---News without ethics: media the Murdoch way highlights the power of the Murdoch media in Australia due to News Ltd controlling 70% of our print media. She says:

The inordinate power of the Murdoch press, and fear of landing on the wrong side of it, has a decisive influence on the Australian political landscape, too. I am personally aware of a successful opposition campaign to win state government focused almost exclusively on promulgating policies the Murdoch tabloid was seen to support. As The Age argued yesterday, News Ltd's Australian papers have "largely abandoned" valuing or attempts to achieve "journalistic impartiality", embarking instead on a "series of vendettas against its designated foes". Such enemies included Victoria's former police commissioner, Simon Overland, after he suggested the paper had irresponsibly published details of anti-terror raids before they occurred.

We do have the partisan and bullying coverage from News Ltd (eg., The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and The Herald Sun), and what is worse, the one-sided, vituperative, ill-informed rantings of many talkback shock jocks.

Cannold calls for an inquiry into media regulation to place checks on media practices that abuse power and corrupt our democratic institutions.

The lack of media diversity in Australia is worrying. It is too concentrated and it is well known that it is dangerous for politicians to stand up to the bullies at News Ltd.

There needs to be some sort of mechanism to make the press and the radio shock jocks more accountable for their abuse, lies and deceptions.