Journalist Wendy Goldman Rohm described him as “a man who over the years has been reviled worldwide for his alleged crassness and reputation for catering to the lowest common denominator.”
His youngest son, who many believe is being groomed to take over from his father at the helm of the media empire, has described the £3.7bn a year BBC licence fee as a “regressive tax” and argued that the BBC should be scaled back. For anti-Monarchists, the Murdoch’s seem uncommonly keen on the hereditary principle.
The shift towards the Internet is throwing the BBCs power to dominate with its free news service into ever sharper focus, the BBC, put simply, can afford to give away its news, it is pre-paid by the tax payers to do so. Murdoch and his other competitors, out in the real market place, cannot give away the news, they must find a way to charge for their services.
One view holds that Murdoch is after world domination and the BBC stands four square in his way, but alternatively, if the BBC is to remain a prepaid monolith, then human nature dictates that those organisations which need to charge for their services will slowly bleed to death, and eventually the state run organ will be the only organ.
One could argue that those who dream of citizens suddenly producing news coverage of courts, council meetings, public meetings, police press conferences, and major accidents are just that, dreaming; and in the age of the citizen journalist those valued Times journalists could reinvent themselves as bloggers – but who is to pay their expenses to fly to Tripoli to gather the first interview with Ali al-Megrahi ? Does it matter whether we have that interview or not?
Murdoch Senior once told Eurobusiness: “We [a global media company] have special powers: we can help set the agenda of political discussion. We can uncover government misdeeds and bring them to light. We can affect the culture by glorifying or demonising certain behaviour.” (Eurobusiness, April 2002)
As far back as 1996, Murdoch was assuring his shareholders that “once we have established our [multimedia satellite] platforms around the world – a goal which is well within reach – the potential for our company and our investors is truly awesome.”
A Downing Street memo, released under the Freedom of Information Act in October 2008 has revealed how Tony Blair helped Rupert Murdoch overcome an official investigation which was jeopardising his £8oo million investments.
The memo reveals an episode in 1998 – a year after the Sun’s conversion to Labour – in which Murdoch appears to call in one of those favours. Murdoch had privately approached Blair when he feared that the European commission investigation was hindering his business opportunities.
Blair gathered members of his inner circle to see the tycoon – his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell; James Purnell, then a Downing Street special adviser on the media and now a cabinet minister; and his press secretary, Alastair Campbell.
Murdoch complained that the investigation by the European competition commissioner into one of his planned television schemes was costing him money. He told Blair: “The competition commissioner, [Karel] Van Miert, had come up a long list of complaints and the project was being delayed at huge cost. Sky’s own investment was very significant (£800m so far) and the success of the venture was crucial to their overall plans for developing digital services.”
One of the main reasons why Tony Blair attempted to stop the publication of Lance Price’s book, Spin Doctor’s Diary (2006) was that he disclosed that all important policy decisions had to go before Rupert Murdoch before being announced to the general public.
Karel Van Miert, the EC Competition Commissioner, gave permission for Murdoch’s British Interactive Broadcasting to go ahead in 1999. Initially it was successful but was closed down in 2001 because of the competition from the Internet.
Now Murdoch Junior is complaining of unfair competition from ‘ the state dumping free news’ – does he have a point? I think he does.
We can listen to the left wingers telling us that Murdoch seeks unfair domination of the news agenda, and condemn his attempts to clip the wings of the BBC and their mega licence fee – that way lies a potential state run propaganda corporation, which has squeezed out any competition by its ability to provide the news for free –
Or we can listen to the right wingers telling us that the BBC is a chilling state propaganda machine and we can force the BBC to stop ‘dumping free news’ and allow Murdoch and co to make a decent profit and survive.
Neither Murdoch nor the BBC emerges with any credit when it comes to domination of market, nor dumbing down of content – but there does seem to be a point at which we can’t have both – so which do we want?
Or is Murdoch just lining up behind James Purnell?
“Murdoch has a long and sordid history of discarding the accepted norms of honest journalism in order to advance his own political and corporate agenda,” wrote Eric Boehlert, a senior fellow at Media Matters in America, in a statement published on the progressive media watchdog group’s website.
Stark choices indeed.