HOW MURDOCH'S MEDIA EMPIRE UNDERMINES AND DISRUPTS DEMOCRACY
BY ALEX SHEENE
We have seen a seismic shift from those we elect being responsible for our concerns and wellbeing to a system of mass corruption and corporate back-handers. Industry lobbyists influencing those in power have set out the mission statement for the modern industrialised nation; weakening of union power, increasing income inequality and the profiteering from war around the globe.
It is impossible to reach the empty political milieu of modern politics we find ourselves in without the aid of a complicit press, willing to ignore policy, ideology and ultimately objectivity.
A perfect case study of this relationship can be found every day within British tabloids and online publications from free market radicals, specifically those owned by Rupert Murdoch, not content with indoctrinating his native Australians, Murdoch’s reach is global, extending into Europe, Asia and the Americas, providing more opportunities to influence and affect political change. The normalisation of radical free market ideals at the cost of ethics and in some cases legality. For decades Murdoch’s pet project has been the undermining of the European social-democratic principles foundational to modern Britain.
When action was taken against News international, Murdoch’s UK wing, for their part in a mass phone-hacking program, the relationship between Newscorp and the British parliament becomes evident if not as direct collaboration then as professional negligence or duplicity. Between 2005 and 2007 the News of the World hacked the phones of celebrities, political figures and in one case the phone of a missing and presumed dead child. Acts that, whilst highly illegal in themselves also provide evidence towards the amoral attitudes of the organisation. Rebekah Brooks, former News of the World editor, now working once again within the rebranded ‘News UK’ had a deep personal relationship with then prospective PM David Cameron. Text messages that arose from the Levenson inquiry show the depth of this relationship. Cameron thanks Rebekah for letting him ride one of her horses; ‘fast, unpredictable and hard to control’ he quips. Brooks replies later that she ‘cried twice’ during his conference speech and that she ‘will love working together’. Whilst showing the utter banality of the lives of the rich and privileged, the jovial atmosphere and relaxed tone of the conversation shows the way in which media and power will attract, both parties benefitting mutually, both willfully neglecting their professional responsibilities.
This union between political power and media influence has the effect of watering down, suppressing or delegitimising any calls for a radical change to domestic policy. The impact of media complicity during war time is even more egregious, whether that be through its glorification of death or the validating of false intelligence in the run up to war, media collusion with those in power leads to propagandists and witch-hunts for dissenting voices.
In 2003 shortly after the initial invasion of Iraq, Murdoch told a reporter: ‘We can’t back down now where you hand over the whole of the Middle East to Saddam. …I think Bush is acting very morally, very correctly. … The greatest thing to come of this to the world economy, if you could put it that way, would be $US20 a barrel for oil.’ Once again, the sociopathic attitudes come to the foreground of the conversation. A total lack of regard for the human cost of war in Iraq; friendly or combatant as well as the complete lack of foresight to the long-term impact of middle-eastern conflict. These views wasn’t restricted to News Corp executives, but is prevalent within all wings of its media empire from Fox News to the Wall Street Journal and The Sun newspaper in the UK all pushing for further escalation towards war in 2003, referring to the UN as ‘weasels’ for going soft on Iraq, calling opposition to the war ‘traitors and naïve pawns’ and claiming that Saddam was building a nuclear bomb in the run up to invasion.
It should be clear to anyone with a notion of the inter-connectivity of powerful industries that not only did News Corp stand to benefit from positive treatment by western governments for their support of the war but that the consequences and costs of war would benefit themselves also. The same corporations that own large portions of the media are the same who profiteer from oil procurement, military contract outsourcing and arms sales to ‘allied’ dictatorial regimes.
We see this benefit to business in another middle-eastern battlefield. In 2010, influential figures such as Dick Cheney, Lord Rothschild and Rupert Murdoch himself invested in the Israeli-American Genie Energy, a subsidiary of IDT. Its chairman Howard Jonas spoke glowingly of Murdoch’s investment in Genie: “Rupert Murdoch is the greatest and most well-informed media magnate of our generation. His decision to invest in our shale initiatives and serve on Genie’s Strategic Advisory Board is very gratifying and we look forward to benefiting from his input.”
Murdoch’s input would prove invaluable as his efforts once again in escalating tensions and conflict led to increased western involvement in Syria and the loss of government oversight in the resulting chaos. Genie were granted an exclusive drilling contract in a 153-square mile section of the Israeli controlled Golan Heights, a region heavily disputed since 1967. Not only has the influx of corporations in the Golan Heights proven a useful political tool, securing western influence in the region but in 2015, following the discovery of large quantities of oil within their licensed drilling area, a discovery that Murdoch himself claims would: ‘reflect a more prosperous, more democratic, and more secure world’, it provided the potential for massive personal financial gain for Genie’s advisory board, conveniently comprised of media moguls and ex-government employees.
The marriage of money, influence and access between figures of political importance and their financial backers is a relationship that must be broken if any real political change benefitting the working class is to be achieved. It is nearly impossible to argue for the raising of the corporate tax rate or the improvement of vital areas of our social safety net within a media landscape dominated by those paid to push free market radicalism to a compliant audience. This is true of even the ostensibly non-corporate owned media. It is incredibly unlikely that the BBC, for example, would ever discuss any financial stimulus to the NHS or the benefits system without tying that to austerity measures and questioning: ‘where will the money come from?’. A query suspiciously absent when discussing the cost of war.
It is the double standard caused by a corporate-infused media elite that leads to an increasingly ignorant electorate and the rise of stylized political figures. More concerned with how to appease predatory media outlets with faux-populist marketing than striving to create any real engagement with the voter along policy lines, the democratic choice has been for several decades narrowed to differentiations in optics and presentation rather than any significant differences between the major parliamentary parties.
This window is opening at both ends of the spectrum. From the right we see the formation of reactionary forces to what they see as the over-liberalization of society and from the left an anger at the extenuation of corrupting market forces within the modern capitalist system. Both resurgences threaten to destabilize the dominant forces of media, whether it be the dispelling of free market myths from the left, or the calling out of faux-populism from right-wing reactionaries. In many ways the very forces that Murdoch created on the street level through his propaganda. The denigration of refugees, belittling of minority issues and the general xenophobia and bigotry rampant throughout his right-wing media properties threatens to overtake and outflank Murdoch, leaving him in their eyes as the same big business elite that he conditioned them to distrust. This hardline reactionary wing could prove to be the most dangerous to Murdoch’s future within UK politics. Those on the left have never formed a large enough audience of News Corp properties to provide any real financial benefit for an appeasement to liberal ideas, but the further fractioning and rightward movement to media outlets like Breitbart news and the rise of genuinely worrying neo-fascist groups throughout Europe threatens to undermine the profitability of Murdoch’s model. Is it possible to latch onto the younger right-wing movements in Europe and the US as a corporate entity, ostensibly ideologically opposed to economic nationalism, or will the influence of Murdoch and his peers fade away as the audience and reach of his message dies off in the face of media sprouting from the deepest lunatic fringe?