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Leveson Inquiry: the Murdoch dump begins « Previous | |Next »
April 25, 2012

The Leveson Inquiry appears to confirm what the critics of the Murdochs have often suspected: that they have exploited their position as newspaper owners to win secret favours from governments. Emails released by News Corp --- they were written by James Murdoch's chief lobbyist, Frédéric Michel--- appear to show that Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, and his office passed confidential and market-sensitive information to the Murdoch empire to support its takeover of BSkyB.

The emails show that News Corp expected Hunt to push for the BSkyB deal to be approved; that Hunt providing advice guidance and privileged access to News Corporation, thereby acting as a back channel for the Murdochs; and that Hunt saw his job to help the Murdochs to get their bid for BSkyB successfully past the official regulators.

RowsonMMurdochSun.jpg Martin Rowson

In The Guardian Nick Davies says that what is emerging is evidence suggesting a deal between the Conservative leadership and News Corp.

In its crudest form, the suggestion is that the Murdochs used the Sun to make sure that Gordon Brown was driven out of Downing Street so that the incoming Conservative government could deliver them a sequence of favours – a fair wind for them to take over BSkyB; the emasculation of the much resented Ofcom; and a severe funding cut to their primary broadcasting rival, the BBC.

It highlights how the political classes – from the time of the Thatcher administration, through the Blair government to the Cameron coalition – who have allowed News Corp to increase its hold on Britain's media estate.

The BSkyB deal was looked on rather skeptically by News Corp in New York, where the view was that it would tie up the lion's share of the company's cash far longer than was advisable. Therefore, the imperative for James Murdoch in London was to move this deal through the regulatory hurdles as fast as possible. Hunt set up a back channel to News Corp to facilitate this, and in doing so effectively acted for Murdoch's interests not the public interest.

As The Guardian editorial points out:

The meaning of "quasi-judicial" is simple enough. A public servant is required to behave like a judge – setting aside all personal prejudices and behaving with such transparency, candour and integrity that people can have total faith in his or her rulings. Judges don't book private meetings with one side in the cases they or their colleagues on the bench are hearing. They don't offer inside information, or appeal for private help in formulating their decisions or covertly demolishing the other side's arguments. They don't suggest PR strategies or brief one side what the other's been saying in confidence. They don't offer winked assurances that they share one party's aims or outcomes. They don't have private chats on their mobile phones to get round official scrutiny or slip confidential information through back channels. Any judge who behaved like that would not command public confidence and would be forced to resign.

In doing this Hunt had behaved in a manner that could not remotely be described as impartial or "quasi-judicial".

The Murdoch's in their anger at the Cameron Government for setting up the Leveson Inquiry into the phone hacking scandal at News of the World are dumping on the Cameron Government. This is being done under the guise of James Murdoch defending News Corporation's insider lobbying tactics for the letting the BSkyB deal through as just normal business. They were just making their case/brief to the government.

Will Rupert Murdoch deny the history of political fixes with Thatcher, Blair, Cameron when he appears at the Leveson Inquiry? Will he spill the beans? Will there be much insight into the political fixes in Australia? Somehow I doubt it.

Update
Murdoch plays powerless broker at the Leveson Inquiry. He defended with well-constructed walls of obdurate denial, reinforced by occasional bouts of forgetfulness and long silences.

The Cameron Government's response to the revelations about the Culture Secretary's contacts with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp followed time-honoured precedent. The wagons were circled around the minister, and the special adviser was thrown to the wolves. The tactic is to erase the minister (Jeremy Hunt) from the picture by spinning the line that everything bad was done by an overzealous and free-booting adviser. The Minister acted properly throughout and did not know what was going on with his feral adviser.

How long will that defence stand up to scrutiny?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:58 AM | | Comments (12)
Comments

Comments

time for the public broadcaster to do their job and put the heat on abbott about what he has been asked to deliver for favours given.

"The Murdoch's in their anger at the Cameron Government for setting up the Leveson Inquiry are dumping on the Cameron Government "

The Murdochs are spreading the muck around to make others stink so they can improve their aroma and start smelling roses. Still they must be saviouring the revenge.

Will Rupert Murdoch follows his son to the witness stand at Leveson and take the opportunity to turn the tables on the political class that has tried so hard to hang him out to dry.

No doubt there are those who will point to the Leveson Inquiry.... and try to make that argument that the "system" really DOES work.

No. In fact the system is very very broken!

The Murdoch's have been compelled to account for their media to the system of democratic government that it does so much to influence. First time ever.

I watched Murdoch's testimony to the Leveson Inquiry. The defence strategy was one of convenient memory lapses, silences and the blanket denials. Present a wall.

The denials were forthright---I've never asked a prime minister for anything in my life … We have never pushed our commercial interests in our papers … I don't know many politicians.

There was no dishing the dirt.

In Australia the submissions to the independent Finkelstein media inquiry from the newspaper owners and their associations show they reckon there is nothing wrong with the status quo. Self-regulation.

The vast majority of their submissions avoided any serious discussion of trust and accountability issues. The assumption is the the media need not be held accountable to democracy.

The recommendation of the Finkelstein inquiry into the print media was that a government-funded News Media Council be established to oversee news and commentary in print and associated online outlets.

Nick Davies in The Guardian says that Murdoch conceded substantial ground:

Murdoch kept denying that he made deals with politicians, ie, that he simply offered them the support of his paper in return for favours to his business. But Jay was suggesting something far more subtle. "It operates at a far more sophisticated level, doesn't it?" Jay suggested and went on to quote the reported words of the former Australian prime minister Paul Keating: "You can do a deal with him without ever saying a deal is done.

Murdoch's underlying problem was that he was not listening to Robert Jay QC and failed to see the subtlety of the allegation that faced him. Jay kept piercing small gaps in his defences.

Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and David Cameron all paid homage at Murdoch's altar. The all sought the backing of Murdoch's powerful papers.

A government's relationship with Murdoch is determined at the very top. Cameron was delivering what Murdoch wanted---letting the the BSB deal through. That was the price for Murdoch's papers supporting Cameron against Brown Labour. Both News Corp and the Jeremy Hunt proceeded on the basis that the takeover was both desirable and inevitable because they agreed on the desirability of minimising regulation and maximising the free flow of market forces through all areas of social life.

The spin from the Murdoch empire and the conservative side of politics is that the British (and Australian) media system so competitive and diversified that a vast inflation of Newscorp market-share could carry no implications for democracy.

News International in the UK and News Ltd in Australia do not have a real, distinct existence: they are a limb of Newscorp. The history of Newscorp’s growth shows with few exceptions, that its growth, is tied to circumventing American, Australian and British laws designed to resist both monopoly and to sustain honest, independent news reporting.

Murdoch's media model is to trade propaganda-journalism for political influence, exchanged in turn for major broadcasting assets with a large element of monopoly.

Murdoch's model is that journalism is essentially a servant of factional politics. It is an 18th century model.

Gordon Brown has claimed that News Corp had set out a series of demands to his government, including cutting the budget of the BBC, reducing Ofcom's powers and protecting BSkyB's rights to screen live sport.

Brown – who said he resisted the demands – lost the support of Murdoch's newspapers at the 2010 general election. David Cameron – who won the endorsement – subsequently backed News Corp's controversial plan to take over all of BSkyB and actively helped Murdoch to land the deal.