The Branding of Rupert Murdoch: Unfit to Wield Media Power

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch makes an appearance in New York City in 2011.

by Rick Rockwell

Rupert Murdoch, one of the most powerful men in the world and the leader of the conservative News Corp. may have received his greatest upbraiding last week.  A committee of the U.K.’s House of Commons branded him as “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”  It seems at least those members of Parliament who are moderates or who are on the left have grown tired of Murdoch’s Cheshire Cat act (even if that televised performance was delivered for a different investigative inquiry).  Predictably, members of the Conservative Party voted along party lines for less severe language in the public scolding Murdoch received.  Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron spent much of the week saying his party had no special deals with Murdoch and his media empire.  (News is surfacing just today about secret talks Cameron may have held with representatives of News Corp. despite Cameron’s best efforts to deflect charges of collusion.)

This just means Cameron and his party will need to sacrifice another few political careers in their attempts to sever themselves from Murdoch, a man whose media outlets have campaigned for decades on behalf of the conservative cause on at least three continents.  But that’s for later.

Certainly for critics of Murdoch, Parliament’s report proved their views correct.  As this blog wrote several months ago: “Rupert and James Murdoch* are either incompetent for their poor oversight of their media empire or they are complicit.  What this all boils down to is a culture that accepted invasion of privacy and theft of information.”  That view has been obvious to anyone following the hacking scandal, which has brought the Murdoch empire low, since the summer of 2011, which predates this blog.  So lacking more evidence, the Murdochs are guilty of the lesser charge.  But despite the public embarrassment, which Rupert Murdoch failed to accept by going into full-on defensive political counterattack, isn’t this penalty weaker than a slap on the wrist?

In the U.S., Wall Street reacted by boosting News Corp.’s stock price after the parliamentary report.  Some see this repudiation of Murdoch not as the end of the scandal but just part of the slow second act where the Murdoch family is slowly forced to divest itself of more control of their empire.  Some investors seem to want Chase Carey the chief operating officer of the company to take the reins from the Murdochs.

Truly, if the Murdochs lose some of their empire due to this scandal it would be a long overdue bit of justice for governments to finally undercut and stop the spread of this very politicized media empire.  Not only has News Corp. brought widespread use of unethical tactics to British journalism but it also forever altered media in the United States by ending the era of objectivity that so marked American media in the middle part of the 20th Century.

Some believe, after Parliament’s report and the inevitable findings from the various other British inquiries looking into the scandal and the unethical practices at News Corp., that Ofcom, the U.K. government’s agency for the oversight of broadcasting, will move to review the Murdochs’ minority holdings in BSkyB, the British television satellite network.  If the Murdochs were forced to divest themselves of that operation it would cost them hundreds of millions of dollars annually in revenue.

Now that’s the way to punish a media mogul: not with damning words but with actions that hurt him where it counts.  In the wallet.

*James Murdoch is the deputy chief operating officer of News Corp.

(For more background on the scandal, please also see:  “Journalists & Hacking:  The Scandal Grows.”)

(The photo is by David Shankbone of New York City via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

About rickrockwell2011

Rick Rockwell is the Director of the School of Communication’s International Media program at American University. Rockwell is an award-winning journalist and author. His book, Media Power in Central America, won an award from the American Library Association. Please see the additional links for a full profile.
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