Rupert Murdoch, Media Bias and the Phone Hacking Scandal

1. Clause 4

I was delivering mail on the High Street a couple of weeks ago when I bumped into members of the Labour Party protesting against the Murdoch press.

This seemed a bit rich to me since I distinctly remember Tony Blair toadying up to Rupert Murdoch when he first took over the leadership of the party in 1994.

If you remember: after Tony Blair became the leader his very first act was to see Rupert Murdoch, after which he promptly set about removing Clause 4 from the constitution of the Labour Party.

Clause 4 was the Labour Party’s historic commitment to public ownership. It was the Labour Party’s “active ingredient”. Without it the Labour Party was no longer the Labour Party. It no longer did what it said on the tin.

I often wonder if Rupert Murdoch had a hand in that decision. What is certain is that he has wielded unprecedented influence over British politics for over 40 years and that every British Prime Minister since Thatcher has felt the need to consult with him.

In the case of Thatcher, of course, the two of them were already in broad political agreement. In the case of the Labour Party it meant a complete sell out of the party’s historical purpose, to shift the balance of power away from the vested interests and into democratic control.

It was Rupert Murdoch who was behind the hate-campaign directed against Tony Benn in the early 70s, in which Benn’s sanity was brought into question. The phrase “the loony left” was employed to reinforce that impression. The reason? Because Benn was talking about the malign influence of the banks and the corporations on the British economy, something which now sounds decidedly sane.

Murdoch has always employed vicious and underhand methods to get what he wants. The attack on Benn involved employing someone to rifle through his rubbish and harassing his family. It’s amazing what we have allowed this ex-pat Australian with American citizenship to get away with.

Let’s hope that the current scandal will end the power he has had over this country for too many years now.

The Pearl Roundabout in Bahrain, since dismantled
The Pearl Roundabout in Bahrain, since dismantled

2. Propaganda

Beware of what you read in your newspaper or see on the news. The art of propaganda is alive and well and being practiced by the mainstream media

Think about the trajectory of the Arab Spring story, as an example. Earlier in the year we had the salutary sight first of the Tunisians, and then of the Egyptians, standing up to their respective dictators and by courage, optimism and sheer weight of numbers managing to overthrow them.

Since then the story has become more murky. The West has taken up arms against one dictator (Gaddafi) while making belligerent noises against another (Assad). Meanwhile the media is managing to ignore virtually everything else that is happening in the Arab world.

One thing about the Syria story: if you look on your maps you’ll see that most of the fighting is taking place on the borders. Armed people are appearing on the streets, thus turning a peaceful revolution into a war.

Where did the arms come from? Who is supplying them? There weren’t any arms in Egypt or Tunisia. So whose purpose does it serve to turn a popular uprising into an armed conflict?

The difference is that in an uprising only those people who are on the streets are risking their lives, whereas in a war everyone is at risk, and many more people will be killed.

In Bahrain the Saudi Army marched in and brutally suppressed the revolution, completely dismantling the Pearl Roundabout (the local equivalent of Tahrir Square) thus removing any potential focus of discontent. Bahraini doctors have been tortured and a state of emergency has been declared, but there aren’t any arms on the streets of Bahrain. Or only Saudi arms, that is. Saudi arms supplied by the Western powers. Meanwhile, where are the undercover reporters driving around in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, giving us the inside story of what is happening in those two countries?

I’m not saying we should disbelieve everything we see on the news. I’m saying that we should learn to read between the lines.

We should always ask ourselves: how are we being manipulated here?

3. The Daily Herald

One of the interesting aspects of the phone hacking scandal is how it has shed light on the way our media works.

It is worth considering the history of the Sun newspaper, as this tells us a lot about the process by which right-wing bias is built into the newspaper industry.

Prior to 1964 the Sun was called the Daily Herald. It was a trade union paper. In the 1930s it was the most widely read daily newspaper in the world. It was fiercely left wing. As a consequence it struggled to get advertising revenue. Over the years its cover price began to rise relative to the right wing press. Slowly its readership dwindled and in 1964 it was renamed the Sun. In 1969 Rupert Murdoch bought it, profoundly shifting its editorial policy in the process.

Thus Britain’s most left-wing paper became its most right-wing paper overnight.

Rupert Murdoch built his media empire on the twin pillars of celebrity and sport. He hired the best sports writers for the back pages, while filling the front pages with celebrity gossip. He knows what his readers want and is happy to give it to them. Other newspapers have had to compete in a market increasingly dominated by the Murdoch press.

What is clear is that the modern obsession with celebrity is largely a Murdoch invention. This has debased and degraded our national life. We’ve become a nation obsessed with tittle-tattle in which the real news is hidden behind a fog of distraction.

It is no accident that the route to power in the Murdoch empire is through the gossip pages. Nor is it an accident that our politicians are obsessed with spin. Spin and gossip are two words for the same thing. They are the means by which the rest of us are kept in ignorance.

We hear a lot of talk about the “free press”, but what does that mean exactly? The usual explanation is that it represents the press’ ability to hold those in power to account. But what happens when the press and the people in power are in each other’s pockets? Who holds the press to account?

That could be one of the most important questions of our time.

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Comments 19 comments

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 5 years ago from UK

Things have certainly changed since the 60s and 70s. We're all so manipulated by the press and the politicians that it's difficult to spot what's going on behind the scenes. There are so many different agendas at work, and so many tit for tat actions and counter-actions being staged, it's hard to know what to believe. All the really interesting news items sink without trace only to be replaced by sensationalised celebrity gossip. These are interesting times, and not necessarily in a good way.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

Not only in Britain, dear CJStone, but Fox News and Newscorp in the US (Murdoch owned) and the bastion of the corporate interest/capitalism is good press. Recently, Canada refused to license Fox News, citing bias and misrepresentation as the basis for that decision. Try and tell that to anyone in the U.S. though. I recently read that people first decide what they believe and then look for that which supports their beliefs, not vice verso. Hence the wide audience for media claiming to be "Fair and Balanced," but is truly neither.


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 5 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

You make a number of points which may take a while to digest.

The first is the way the Media, or at least the Murdoch media, have moved from impartial observers to political players.

The second is the way they seem to have become pullers of puppet strings.

A third is the suspicious coverage of the Arab Spring. I have been suspicious of this for a while, and I read that the plan was to replace Christianity with Islam as the world's dominant religion as Islam is better for controlling people. After the events in the Middle East, and reviewing trends in the UK I reviewed my initial dismissal of this idea.

Perhaps we need not just formal separation of state and religion but formal separation of state and media

Whenever a politician is suspected of taking bribes there is a scandal. Why is there no scandal when a politician seems to have over close links with the media. Read Private Eye for a few months and see a few examples of this.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 5 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Interesting times indeed Amanda. I was going to do a little piece on the Daily Mirror too, which the Sun replaced as the most popular tabloid. In the 60s the Mirror was unashamedly populist, but it also carried out proper investigative journalism. Not any more.

Yes I know Murdoch's empire is a world-wide one, but Britain is the lynch-pin for the whole thing. He uses the British tabloids as source material for the rest of the empire. It's up to you Americans to start questioning him over there.

Alek, no all the print media are political players, but Murdoch had a particular hold over British politicians. Yes, they do pull the strings. Not sure sure about replacing Christianity with Islam, however. I think the set up is to create a friction between the two religions (or between secular Western culture and Islam) - a clash of cultures - and to exploit the resulting fear as a way of distracting us from the truth. The biggest scandal is Tony Blair's relationship with the media. It was corruption at the very heart of government and has made Blair a very rich man.


jandee profile image

jandee 5 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

Never will I forgive the vindictive press for their garbage aimed at Tony Benn who back in the 70s could very well have been Labour Leader !

Well written even though you bring some sad happenings back to haunt us,like how easy it it for parasites with wealth to take over a nation.

keep on writing and reminding us,best from jandee


fen lander profile image

fen lander 5 years ago from Whitstable

I hate to say it...(don't know why), but that loony b*sta*d David Icke has been banging-on about the hidden links between the intelligence services, high-level government and the media for year after year. By His reckoning, they're all shape-shifting lizards... and we are their cattle.... nice 'ere innit?


CJStone profile image

CJStone 5 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Hi Fen, that's the trouble with Icke, half of it makes sense and half of it doesn't. So, you wonder if the half that doesn't make sense is put in to discredit the half that does? Or is this a conspiracy theory too far, Icke in a conspiracy to undermine conspiracy theory?

Thanks Jandee. I agree with you about Benn, and you are right about the wealthy parasites too. When will we see sense and have our own version of the Arab Spring, that's what I want to know? An anti-capitalist spring.


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 5 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

I agree half of what Icke says makes sense. But sometimes I wonder which half. After all the way our financial business and political elites behave and think they might as well be extraterrestrial aliens.

Why is it being or becoming rich means, for so many people, losing most or all of their humanity?


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 5 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

The combination of corporate money and right wing extremism has pretty much made objective journalism obsolete, CJStone. It's getting more and more difficult for the average working man to find the unfiltered facts in our media. The battle between the moneyed interests and the people is raging. The outcome is in doubt.


CJStone profile image

CJStone 5 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Alek, I think that becoming rich (as Murdoch has done over his life) involves not caring about other people or what becomes of them. In Murdoch's case he is obviously a ruthless bastard who will destroy anyone who gets in his way.

William, and part of the cause of the right wing take over has been down to the Murdoch press: the News of the World, the Sun and BSkyB in the UK, and Fox News in the US, amongst others. There's not much objective journalism left is there?


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 5 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

OK I accept that ruthless bastards with ht right talent and opportunity become rich.

But there seem to be a reverse case that becoming rich somehow turns you into a ruthless bastard.

However I accept also that many rich people become philanthropists so maybe the link is not so strong in the reverse direction


fen lander profile image

fen lander 5 years ago from Whitstable

"...tis easier to pass a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven..." The thought gives me great comfort - my ancestors will not have to rub shoulders with the likes of the Murder... err, Murdoch clan. The big man Rupert will be reborn in a physical form more suitable to his nature.... a preying mantis or a stinging nettle, methinks.


matteotti 5 years ago

Mark Twain said The only free press belongs to those who own one.

But with blogs (like this) and careful use of desk top publishing (if they were used with some street wisdom) there has been & could be a vision of some discreet growing dissent outside the hegemony (Gramsci's term) of the establishment ideas. Samizdat!

Doesn't look too likely though. Given the power to petition parliament on line, what do the masses of the British public clamour for?... return of capital punishment...sigh


CJStone profile image

CJStone 5 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

That reminds me of another quote I've heard: "the best way to rob a bank is to own one." I do my best to voice my own personal dissent, but the numbers reading this blog are very small.


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 5 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

A real conspiracy theorist would think the police had been ordered to stand back and let the London riots spread so as to take the Phone Hacking Scandal off the Front Page.

Hmmm..... Naaah, that would be over the top, surely?


CJStone profile image

CJStone 5 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

I must admit I've thought of that myself Alek.


travel_man1971 profile image

travel_man1971 3 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

Media surely influence ordinary people, although one must know the truth from gossip.

With the likes of Murdoch, this world will never be newsworthy. :)


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 3 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

If you want to come closer to knowing what is happening then read a paper with which you agree and one with which you disagree. Do the same with online news. And try to read English language versions of overseas papers. You may find that they cover things completely omitted in your country: certainly I found that BBC World News had a rather different slant on things than the BBC Home channels.


jandee profile image

jandee 3 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

Good stuff and should jolly well be read by ALL,

jandee

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