Murdoch scandal: The lies of the rich and famous

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You cannot hope to bribe or twist,
(thank God!) the British journalist.
But, seeing what the man will do,
unbribed, there's no occasion to.

(Humbert Wolfe)

Many workers know from bitter experience the nasty, lying nature of the British media[1].  The ‘free press’, ‘unbiased’ TV, are merely means for the ruling class to frame the way we see and understand the world: an important part of totalitarian state capitalism’s repressive apparatus aimed at ensuring that we don’t even want to think about changing it[2].

If nothing else, the top-rated scandal around Rupert Murdoch’s News International (NI, the UK arm of Murdoch’s global, US-based News Corporation) over the summer of 2011 briefly cast this truth in the spotlight. The phone-hacking scandal showed how police, politicians and the media have for years worked with and for each other ‘in the national interest’ against the majority of the population. It revealed a world of bribery, corruption, hypocrisy and cynicism – including the flouting of its own ‘laws’ when it suits – which truly reflects the life of the ruling class.

To highlight just some examples:

  • For decades, top politicians from all parties maintained close personal relations with members of the Murdoch clan and their senior employees. They brought ex-Murdoch hacks into the heart of government. Current Prime Minister David Cameron hired ex News of the World (NoW) editor Andy Coulson (who had previously resigned from NI because of illegal phone hacking ‘on his watch’) as his top communication strategist. Coulson again resigned – this time from his Tory post – but that didn’t prevent his subsequent arrest on suspicion of illegally obtaining information and bribery of police, along with (so far) 12 other current or former NI employees. Labour Leader Ed Milliband appointed another former NI toady to his team who in January sent a text to Labour Parliamentarians telling them not to pursue questions of phone hacking and NI!

  • For years, police have been involved in “inappropriate” links with NI, from low ranking officers taking bribes for passing on information to close ties between the leadership of the Metropolitan Police and NI. This includes top brass being wined and dined regularly by NI during the period when the Met was “investigating” allegations about NI’s use of illegal information-gathering and the Met employing large numbers of ex-NI employees in its PR Department. Britain’s top three police chiefs resigned during the scandal.

But now the ‘great and the good’ say that’s going to change. The mighty Murdoch Empire – the ‘unacceptable face of media capitalism’ – has been, via newspaper exposes and televised proceedings of a Parliamentary Committee, humiliated and humbled so normal service can resume. As if Murdoch’s media outlets were the only ones pushing the ruling class’s propaganda; the only ones involved in lies, hacking, bribery or employing private investigators to spy. As if all this wasn’t intrinsic to capitalism! [3]

Like last year’s furore over the corrupt misuse of MP’s expenses, the ruling class has tried to use the exposure of the sordid realities of its own life to pretend that it’s merely a problem of a few rogues who don’t represent the norm and who’ve now been vanquished. At the same time, it’s trying to manipulate the scandal to clean out its own stable, heal its own divisions and to ensure that its all-important media mouthpieces function as they should.

So what lay behind the eruption of this scandal, and why did it explode when it did?

From saviour to sinner

Murdoch and NI have played a particular role in the life of the British bourgeoisie over the past 40 years. At election time, Murdoch’s papers always support the team the ruling class wants to get into power, and were integral to the state's ability to gain the result it wants. NI also drove through the ‘modernisation’ of the print industry in the 1980's through its role in crushing the print workers, who along with the miners, steel and car workers were important battalions of the working class in Britain. Murdoch print media (The Sun, The News of the World and The Times) have been at the forefront of the state’s dissemination of Islamophobia, nationalism, xenophobia and scapegoating of the weakest elements of society. Like Margaret Thatcher, Rupert Murdoch has played the role of the great right wing hate figure for the left-wing of British capitalism.

As long as NI and the Murdochs were useful to the British bourgeoisie's domination of society, these ties and activities were tolerated and encouraged.

But three elements contributed to the relative diminution of Murdoch’s standing in the UK – a fall from grace which also has ramifications for his influence in the US.

(1)    Murdoch and his son James got greedier. Not content with some 40 per cent share of the UK press market, not content with 39 per cent ownership of the most profitable arm of the British media – satellite broadcaster BSkyB - the Murdoch machine wanted more: total control of BSkyB, enabling NI to ‘bundle’ TV, satellite, telephone, internet and newspaper packages at the expense of other UK outlets, threatening the “plurality” of the British media and undermining the whole illusion of a ‘free press.’ Indeed, Murdoch Jnr, James, head of NI’s UK operations, had declared in 2009 his intention to “cut down to size” his main domestic and international broadcasting rival, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). However, the BBC is the bedrock of the British bourgeoisie’s media control: a formidable and well-respected plank of “soft power”[4] at home and abroad. The response to Murdoch’s grab was the formation of a powerful alliance of NI’s media rivals and their supporters in the political arena. This cabal saw the right wing Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail join the left wing Mirror and Guardian and the BBC to sign an appeal for NI’s bid to be blocked. Other sections of the British bourgeoisie recognised the validity of their case, notably Coalition Business Secretary Vince Cable, who said he would “wage war” against the proposed deal but who was then taken off the case by Cameron (the inexperienced Prime Minister being one of the slowest to recognise Murdoch’s increasingly destabilising and divisive role, which is why, to bring him to heel, his links to Murdoch were highlighted more than any other politician’s).

(2)    The recent role of Murdoch’s empire in the US in fostering the rabidly right-wing Fox News Network (while also being a major contributor to the President Obama’s campaign coffers) has contributed to real difficulties for, and exaggerated divisions within, the US bourgeoisie[5]. This convinced more and more members of the UK ruling class that they needed to avoid such a polarisation within their ranks and to unify against Murdoch for the good of the state.

(3)    Murdoch’s support of US imperialism and strong Euro-sceptic views had helped reinforce powerful, pre-existing conflicts within the British ruling class and was increasingly at odds with post-Blair UK imperialist policy, pursued by both Brown and Cameron, which was to try to play a more independent role following the fiascos of the Afghan/Iraq wars which left the UK weakened.

Dog Eats Dog: Murdoch snared by his own methods

All the above factors combined to launch the ‘phone-hacking scandal’ only days before Murdoch’s BSkyB bid was to have been rubber-stamped.

The timing was obviously no accident. Police (and thus the state) have known about The News of the World's use of phone tapping for years - a NoW correspondent and a private investigator hired by NI were jailed in 2007 for related offences! And more: the story 'broke' at precisely the moment a controversial and well-publicised court case ended. Millie Dowler was a 13 year old schoolgirl brutally murdered in 2002. Following the trial of her killer, there emerged a carefully manipulated media campaign about the way her innocent family had been traumatised by their questioning during the case. This fomented a tremendous sense of outrage and into this fevered atmosphere The Guardian released ‘news’ that the police had known that The News of the World had hacked the dead girl’s mobile and had even removed messages from her phone.

There could not have been a better moment to cynically turn the public against Murdoch. In addition, The Guardian then revealed that The NoW had hacked the phones of the families of two other girls murdered in 2002 and those of soldiers killed in Afghanistan. After denying all culpability, amidst a Parliamentary hue and cry which drowned genuine public outrage, Murdoch and NI were forced onto the back foot, closed the News of the World, were publically pilloried in Parliament, then made their excuses and left.

In short, Murdoch was snared by his own methods: a well orchestrated witch-hunt combined with cynical manipulation of the news.

For the moment this campaign has gained the objectives of those backing it: the BSkyB bid is dead; NI’s exclusive rights to Hollywood movies in GB have been called into question; Murdoch’s spell over UK political life is broken and rifts in the British bourgeoisie temporarily papered-over with PM Cameron finally disciplined. On the back of all this, a sickening, united ‘clean-up’ campaign to restore the ‘integrity’ of media and politicians is underway.

Workers could well reflect on the nauseous nature of all this and raise the question: if this is how the ruling class treats its own, how much more vicious and venomous are they when confronting the working class? Media coverage of the recent riots may answer that.

JJ Gaunt: 23.08.2011          

 


[1] Recall The Sun’s disgusting campaign against those who died at the Hillsborough football tragedy in 1989; or the BBC’s disinformation during the 1984/5 miners’ strike, in particular when the Corporation cut and pasted film to make it appear that mass pickets had attacked police at the Orgreave works, when in fact it was the other way around.

 

[2] During WW1, nation states almost everywhere tried to control all economic and political activity to mount a war economy – a universal trend which has persisted and increased to the present day. Concerning relations with the press in GB, this was exemplified by the appointment of William Max Hastings (Lord Beaverbrook), owner of The Daily Express, as wartime Director for Propaganda, and of Alfred Harmsworth (First Viscount Northcliffe), the biggest media magnate of his day and owner of The Daily Mail, as Minister of Information. In WW2, Beaverbrook held several ministerial posts within the wartime coalition headed by Churchill.

 

[3] The News of the World came 5th in a list of those who used a private investigator to gain information illegally. This list was compiled by the government’s Information Commissioner in 2006 from the meticulous records kept by the NI-employed private investigator who had been arrested. Top of this list was The Daily Mail, then The Sunday People, followed by The Mirror, then The Mail on Sunday. 9th on the list was The Guardian's sister paper The Observer. Thus there is potential for the hacking scandal to “run and run”. In addition the report also shows that insurance firms and loan companies also used PI’s (but doesn’t dwell on the prying and spying conducted by the state’s own secret services). See the Information Commissioner's website http://www.ico.gov.uk

 

[4] So-called “soft-power” is essentially the new buzz-word for state-sponsored propaganda which doesn’t appear as such, part of the battle to win ‘hearts and minds’ at home and abroad, considered by the bourgeoisie as a necessary adjunct to imperialist domination. It includes the ‘reach’ obtained, for example, by Britain whose influence via the “independent” BBC World Service is the envy of its rivals. The importance of radio, press and broadcasting in this regard cannot be underestimated – witness the efforts at disinformation spread by US and British secret services around the issue of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ prior to the invasion of Iraq (See ’Deceiving the Public – The Iraq Propaganda Campaign’ in Unpeople by Mark Curtis, published by Vintage, 2004, ISBN 0-099-46972-3).

 

[5] See ‘Political Decay and Economic Crisis: US Ruling Class Faced With No Easy Options’: http://en.internationalism.org/intern/159/us-ruling-class-no-easy-options