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Rupert Murdoch, Media Bias and the Phone Hacking Scandal

Updated on February 14, 2018
CJStone profile image

CJ Stone is an author and columnist, with seven books to his credit. He lives in Whitstable and currently writes for the Whitstable Gazette.

Stories from The Whitstable Gazette

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.

© 2011 Christopher James Stone

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