All hail the Sun King

Tom Burgis
1 October 2006

Like a trim, tanned Saint Nicholas, Keith Rupert Murdoch has given us everything we always wanted: round-the-clock sport on our televisions; topless women on our breakfast tables; courageous newspapers that tirelessly pursue the freaks and perverts plotting to rifle our houses and ravish our daughters; fearless correspondents dishing the dirt on those nasty Arabs.

Click here to view this month's list of Bad Democrats, and cast your vote today

Most recently, the benevolent mogul has bestowed on Londoners just what they were crying out for - another free newspaper. And, digging into his pocket in customarily philanthropic fashion, he forked out 580 million dollars to buy MySpace, ensuring that millions of online social networkers will never again miss one of Fox's cinematic offerings.

As if these gifts to humanity were not enough, viewers slumped in blissful stupor before Sky's latest orgy of Mariah Carey's style tips can rest easy in the knowledge that the indefatigable Mr Murdoch even has their political freedoms taken care of. The microwaves pulsing through News Corp's satellites constitute "an unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere", the zapper-in-chief reassured us back in 1993.

Thus it seems nothing short of monstrously ungrateful that openDemocracy's readers have voted Murdoch September's worst democrat, judging him a more scurrilous power-monger than Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran or China's Hu Jintao.

Perhaps they were peeved not to be invited to the Sun King's Olympian shindig at Pebble Beach in August, piqued to have been barred from the marquee where Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nicole Kidman and Rebekah Wade wrestled with the dual problems of geopolitical turbulence brought on by media globalisation and troublesome spouses.

Don't miss the background to our prestigious Bad Democracy awards:



Winner of the first award: Silvio Berlusconi

Winner of the second award: John Howard

Winner of the third award: George W Bush

Winner of the fourth award: Meles Zenawi

Winner of the fifth award: Abu Laban

Winner of the sixth award: Alexander Lukashenko

Winner of the seventh award: Lee Hsien Loong

Winner of the eighth award: Kim Jong Il

Winner of the ninth award: The IDF

Winner of the tenth award: The G8

They can take solace, however, in that fact that News Corp, ineluctable force for democracy that it is, will not shirk its duty to make us all better people in this brave new century. "Our situation is unique - and powerful," reads its report, Imagining the Future, published at the Pebble Beach summit. "And we are taking advantage of it."

As he strives to help Beijing overcome bolshiness among its minions, the Dirty Digger can call on his experience of what happens when irresponsible citizens get a taste of freedom. In 2003, he was almost reduced to suing himself when the writers of The Simpsons, which runs on his own Fox network, penned an episode parodying an alleged slant in Fox News' "fair and balanced" coverage. Never one to overestimate the intelligence of his audiences, Murdoch intervened lest we poor sops confuse the headlines on the cartoon's ticker - "Do Democrats Cause Cancer?", "Study: 92 per cent of Democrats are gay", "Oil slicks found to keep seals young, supple" - with the real thing.

It may be, though, that those readers who voted for News Corp's CEO are simply unreconstructed technophobes, stubbornly refusing to allow the barons of the new media age their rightful place in the global order.

What they fail to realise is that the infallible remote control of corporate capital has selected the doughty Australian-American as the steward of global democracy, reigning in the populist urges of upstart politicians. Thus we should be elated with relief when we read, in a book by one of the British prime minister's former spin doctors, that Murdoch - who in 1997 marshalled The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times and the News of the World behind Tony Blair - "seemed like the 24th member of the cabinet" once New Labour came to power, sagely curbing rash ministerial notions such as allowing foreigners into Britain or talking to Europeans.

Generous to a fault, Murdoch is even prepared to switch sides in order that the leaders of tomorrow - Hillary Clinton, say, or David Cameron - will not have to walk the rocky road of power without him as their guide.

But there will always be fools in this world who don't know what's good for them. Take Serene Sabbagh and Jomana Karadsheh, fixers for Fox News' Jordanian operation, who resigned in July during the levelling of Lebanon. If they were hoping for a decent reference from the Kingmaker of Melbourne, they blew it in their resignation letter: "We can no longer work with a news organisation that claims to be fair and balanced when you are so far from that... Arab blood is not cheap, and we are not barbarians. You ought to be more responsible and have more decency when you take one side against the other."

Click here to read Rupert Murdoch's letter of congratulation from openDemocracy for winning September's Bad Democracy award

If only someone with Murdoch's acute grasp of political presentation had had a quiet word with the Hungarian prime minister, who heads this month's nominees for the Bad Democracy Award, before he announced to his party that his central policy was to lie to the nation, "morning, noon and night".

He is joined by the leaders of Turkey and Serbia, both of whom have spent the past four weeks indulging in whole-hearted minority-bashing to cement wobbly positions. The list of candidates is completed by the ruler of Dubai, whose latest feat of labour-relations appears to have been the recruitment of several thousand enslaved camel-jockeys, and the new potentates in Japan and Thailand, who share a conviction that there is no problem that can't be solved if you've got enough guns.

And should you suspect at any stage that your vote may be a futile gesture in a world of autocrats and despots, just remember that, thanks to Rupert Murdoch, we can do our bit for liberty by just sitting back, switching on and watching footballers' wives perform real-time plastic surgery on noted chefs. You can almost feel the tyrants trembling.

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