Has Rupert Murdoch won it?

3 May 2005

Will it be Rupert Murdoch that won it? (650 words) If Tony Blair remains Prime Minister after Thursday then an ominous figure will loom over the British landscape demanding his pay-back - ‘Rupert’. This was what the great television dramatist Dennis Potter called the malignancy consuming him from within when he was dying of cancer. Now few in Britain even call for an operation to remove the tumour, so deeply has the influence of Rupert Murdoch penetrated. I take my cue from a powerful piece of dissection by Stephen Glover in his media column in yesterday’s Independent.Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid, The Sun, had declared for Labour two weeks ago. Its vigorously twisted coverage in support of the Gulf war, and whatever else it decides to back, is now ‘to be expected’. But Murdoch also owns the once hegemonic Times. This should still aspire to be a paper of record, an institution whose word is its bond and in whom you can trust, etc. Instead, just as systematically, if more insidiously and less blatantly than the Sun, the Times has skewed its election reporting to support the Blair government. Glover leads his analysis with what happened when the Attorney General’s advice on the legality of the war with Iraq was leaked (advice which was hidden from the Cabinet, showed that a second UN resolution was needed and was wrongly described by Blair as unequivocal). On Thursday last week every newspaper led with the story except for the Mirror, the Sun and, yes, The Times. Its early editions disappeared the story on page two, where it was given the newspeak headline “Leak of Iraq war letter ‘shows attack was legal’”. Glover goes on to give further verses of distortion as he shows The Times to be a partisan rag masquerading as news source. In terms of the election, the influence of the Sun is more serious. Michael Howard following his Australian spin-doctor’s advice decided that the Tory Party should trade on fear. Did they overlook that other, more influential Australian? For the Tories are mere retailers compared to Murdoch, the global wholesaler of fear panic and populist anxiety. Had Rupert unleashed his dogs against the exposed flanks of Blair’s integrity, public apprehension would have risen and turnout fallen in an atmosphere of intimidation. Then, perhaps, the Conservatives would have bounced rather than bottomed in the campaign. Should the British people be grateful? I think not. All societies, whether they have written or unwritten constitutions, need a public ethic reinforced by an open and shared self-belief. Those with unwritten constitutions need it more. This was once what Britain once had, and The Times was a conductor of the ruling orchestra. It was not democracy. But it had integrity (and when it screwed up, as over the appeasement of Hitler, it knew it and was capable of shame). No more. When The Times published the co-called Hitler Diaries and these were exposed as a massive hoax, Murdoch reassured his editors who feared for their jobs, by telling them that “we are in the entertainment business”. This shamelessness looks like strength but in fact is mere profiteering. One definition of a major country is that it owns most of its own national press. Without this, how can it conduct a trusted dialogue about its own direction? Britain has long lost this qualification. What matters for Murdoch is that President Bush is supported. No phone calls are needed to ensure that the chorus of his world-wide press sings the same tune where this is concerned. Each member of the choir will testify that they sing the song for themselves. And the pay-back? Glover believes that if the rumours that the Financial Times may be up for sale are true, and if Murdoch wants a global financial paper to add to his chorus of influence, why then a grateful Mr. Blair will ensure that Rupert can add the FT to the growth that is ‘Rupert’. And do so, whatever any media watchdog may say, without having to sell-off The Times. Real name comments please

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