Monday, July 11, 2011

The Marvellous Meltdown Of Murdoch's Media Machine

It couldn't, to paraphrase, happen to a nicer newspaper. After 168 years the British News of the World has closed down in the face of a momentous scandal regarding phone hacking and corruption. That scandal is touching every aspect of British society, bringing key institutions and individuals into disrepute. It is weakening the Tory government at a time when they are already under siege because of the unpopularity of their austerity program. And the full depths of the scandal have yet to be plumbed.
For decades the Murdoch media empire has stood as the bulwark of right wing populism and political bullying in Britain and elsewhere. Politicians who didn't fellate the paper's masters faced the threat of ruin, union leaders would be hounded, progressive ideas misrepresented and condemned. Nor was it just in the realm of a ferocious ideological battle on behalf of corporate interests and the most backward, foul ideas of our age that the New of the World (NotW) was the vanguard. In the 1980s the battle at Wapping involved the Murdoch press smashing union organization in the UK print media, leading to a generational decline in wages and industry conditions.
To put it in perspective, Conrad Black is like a Rupert Murdoch mini-me. Lord Black once aspired to the heights of grotesquerie that Murdoch climbed and dominated for 30 years. Sadly, for Black, he turned out to be barely a Draco Malfoy to Murdoch's Lord Voldemort.
It has indeed been a sweet month to see Black back in the big house, where he belongs, and to see the dark lord himself humbled and his empire shaking from top to bottom.
Even more sweet is the knock on effect that this ignominious collapse is having upon the British police force - exposed as having regularly accepted bribes from NotW journalists to receive information that damaged criminal cases - and, perhaps more significantly, to the British Tory party. British PM David Cameron - despite numerous warnings that he was damaged goods - hired former senior NotW editor Andrew Coulson as his media relations chief after the election last year that brought them to government. That he did so is not so much a reflection of Cameron's stupidity but rather of the hubris that was the result of Murdoch's imperial power having been untouchable for so long. Cameron now looks like a corrupted buffoon and his already tarnished credibility is unlikely to recover from so great a lapse. This can't but help increase the confidence of trade unionists, students and others as they battle his wounded government over its austerity plans.
Certainly Murdoch's craven and vile publications are on the sharp end of mainstream media evil but just as certainly they aren't the only ones. Faced with international competition, not only from other media outlets now instantly accessible via the internet - but also from internet and media activists, exemplified by Wikileaks - the traditional media are under sustained pressure to use dirty tricks to stay ahead of competitors, get scoops, lay traps, etc. The revelation that NotW journalists hacked into the phone messages of a teenage murder victim - and then erased some of her messages to prevent other newspapers from gaining access - is only one of the more odious examples of this. The tsunami that is threatening the already shaky Murdoch empire, could easily spread to exposing the media more broadly, in Britain and across the Atlantic. Murdoch's News International, owned by News Corporation, is the world's second largest media company, behind Disney with revenue approaching $40 billion (that's right, with a "b"). It owns Fox News, which pumps out right wing bilge and conservative tinfoil hat lunacy from the likes of Glenn Beck, along with the equally crazy New York Post and the The Wall Street Journal. If nothing else, this will increase the suspicion of ordinary people - and perhaps a few intrepid and uncorrupted police detectives - towards the mainstream media more generally.
And, frankly, all of that is a good thing.
Meantime, enjoy this skewering of a senior features editor from NotW by a british comic:

Phone hacking | Media | guardian.co.uk
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