On July 7, News Corp, one of the world’s most powerful media organizations, announced that it was closing News of the World, Britain’s largest-selling newspaper. This decision was taken in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal that first emerged in 2007, but which has deepened significantly over the past few weeks. Although Rupert Murdoch has claimed that News of the World was closed on moral grounds, there can be little doubt that Murdoch’s decision to close the tabloid was related to his attempts to take full ownership of British satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
However, despite Murdoch sacrificing what many see as the crown jewel in his media empire, there was no saving News Corp’s bid. The scale of the scandal and the reaction of the British people, and their leaders on both sides of the political spectrum, were simply too great. Faced with a British parliamentary vote supported by all parties calling on the organization to drop its proposed takeover, News Corp withdrew its bid rather than face the indignity of being forced to do so.
The question on everyone’s mind now is what will become of Rupert Murdoch and his media empire. Long renowned as a kingmaker, one of the most powerful and influential men on both sides of the Atlantic, now the media spotlight will focus its attention on every dark corner of Murdoch’s organization. A public inquiry is set to begin in the U.K. into the phone-hacking scandal, and British watchdog Ofcom has stated that it will force News Corp to sell its minority 39 percent share in BSkyB if the company fails a “fit and proper” test. In fact, there is a possibility that Murdoch could be forced to sell all of his media interests in the U.K. once Lord Justice Leveson completes his inquiry into the scandal.
It is not just in the U.K. that Murdoch’s empire has fallen under the media spotlight, however. U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller has called for an investigation into whether any U.S. citizens were targets of the phone-hacking and whether journalists working for News Corp have broken U.S. law. The focus has also turned to the manner in which Murdoch’s businesses operate. Reports that News Corp ranks third among the 100 largest companies in the U.S. in the use of tax-haven subsidiaries have become news, whereas in the past, little attention was paid to them.
Murdoch is definitely not enjoying the intense spotlight on his business operations. However, it is little more than he deserves after making his money peddling the worst kind of drivel to the masses. Murdoch and News Corp had the chance to resolve the phone-hacking issue when it first emerged back in 2007. Instead, his corporation just buried as much of the scandal as possible. This included at least three payoffs exceeding 1 million pounds, signed off at the highest levels of the company, ensuring that Murdoch was aware of the problem. For those who have missed the exact figures concerned, some reports have claimed that Scotland Yard believes that thousands of phones were hacked.
It seems impossible that Murdoch, or at least his chief executive in the U.K., Rebekah Brooks, were unaware of News of the World’s activities given the size of this scandal. Regardless, both of them, wittingly or unwittingly, sanctioned this behavior by peddling the extreme gutter journalism sold by News of the World and its sister paper the Sun. Yes, equal blame should be attached to those who bought these publications. In the end, however, Murdoch will pay the ultimate price as the distributor, and rightly so.
It is doubtful even now that Murdoch really cares about the people, famous or not, whose lives they have ruined or the damage done by his publications to police investigations. Shares in News Corp have fallen 14 percent since July 4, wiping about $5 billion off the company’s value, which is perhaps the only language Murdoch and his associates understand. Journalism is supposed to be one of the great pillars of a democratic society, a check to ensure that all branches of government are functioning correctly. By pioneering a standard of journalism so despicable, Murdoch created a monster that was always likely to destroy its creator. The final cover of News of the World on July 10 read “Thank You & Goodbye”. “Thank God & Good Riddance” would have been more appropriate.
Editorial, The China Post (Taiwan)
(Asia News Network)