Think of a few international TV channels and newspapers. Chances are Rupert Murdoch owns most of them.
Ever since the controversial shutting down of the News of the World (NOTW), a tabloid owned by Murdoch — chairman and CEO of News Corporation, the world’s largest media conglomerate — the controversy termed ‘Hackgate’ keeps getting messier.
Figuratively: More and more people are being arrested and questioned after it came to light that NOTW was deeply involved in corruption and encouraged its reporters to hack into the voicemails of even murder victims.
And literally: During his appearance before a parliamentary committee on July 20, Murdoch was assaulted by a man who threw a ‘foam pie’ on him, calling Murdoch “a very naughty billionaire” and causing Murdoch’s wife to leap up and try to strike the assaulter.
Murdoch’s son James, heir to the empire, replied to most questions unsatisfactorily, while Murdoch senior rarely spoke. At the end of the hearing, one panel member remarked: “Mr Murdoch, your wife has a very good left hook”. Trying to make light of the situation perhaps, though the hearing demanded anything but.
When another panel member asked: “Rupert Murdoch, the buck stops at you. Have you thought of resigning?”, Murdoch simply said: “No.” When probed further, he added: “Frankly, I’m the best person to clean this mess up.”
Is he? What is the journalist community and the readers for the sake of which such actions are committed to make of what has happened? Firstly, when newspapers are accused of intruding into people’s lives, which the NOTW did on many occasions, is it enough to ask them to pay compensation? Surely, this wouldn’t amount to more than a mild blow to their pocket and reputation. Shouldn’t stricter action be taken? For someone as rich as Murdoch, occasional compensation is a small price to pay for the money he makes for the stories his papers have published thanks to invasion of privacy. Secondly, if Murdoch has acknowledged that he “lost sight” of NOTW, how many other of his organisations has he lost sight of? Why struggle to make an empire even bigger when you know it is already becoming impossible to control? And that too an empire that deals with no ordinary product. It is important that his enterprises around the world be investigated. Allegations have already been made that two of his other UK publications also used illegal means to acquire information and it is hard to believe Murdoch was not complicit.
Murdoch has taken the fourth estate and turned it into an arm of the first. The job of a journalist is to tell the truth, ethically and morally. Murdoch has changed the rules. The media world is indeed trapped in a vicious cycle — is it people’s desire for scandal that leads to such practices, or did such practices lead to people’s desire to know all the gory details? At the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter, if the practices are corrupt they must be done away with.
Pakistan can learn from these developments. And one hopes that when our media is truly free, our journalists will not stoop to such levels. But that’s not to say that our country does not have its fair share of media conglomerates which need to abide by an ethics code.
Journalist Robert Fisk in his article “Why I had to leave The Times” back in 1988 (yes that too is Murdoch-owned), compared Murdoch to Arab rulers — he claimed that Murdoch, without personally interfering, had turned “The Times into a paper shorn of all editorial independence” because, much like Arab leaders, he had people who knew what he wanted — probably the same people Murdoch now says he trusted but who let him down. If Fisk is right, then it is terribly ironic that we live in world where the West will bomb Arab dictatorships into oblivion while people like Murdoch freely operate in their own backyard. Whether they take a similar firm stance against him remains to be seen.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2011.