May 2, 2012

Following Rupert Murdoch‘s appearance at the Leveson Inquiry last week and the conclusion of the culture committee’s report into News International and Phone-hacking, it appears that the government has finally taken the stance of Vince Cable and declared war.

Is declaring Rupert Murdoch ‘not a fit person’ to run a major international business: a serious case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted?

The Sun and the former News of the World have both been notorious for pushing the boundaries of ‘acceptable’ journalism. But in 30 years, until things got out of hand and phone hacking became a euphemism for celebrity court cases, no government has actually cracked down on the difference between press freedom and journalism.

The News of the World closed in the face of allegations about the hacking of Milly Dowler’s mobile phone but Mr Murdoch has been quick to replace it with his ‘Tabloid on Sunday’, presumably operating on a more efficient cost basis to the benefit of News Corporation.

Now the government have targeted Mr Murdoch directly having allowed his business influences to ‘roam free’ across news stands and TV screens and create a near monopoly on professional sport broadcasting. Is the impact on the latter of these the one that causes government the greatest headache?

Through BSkyB, sports such as football have become hugely reliant on disproportionate incomes, that have in turn created imbalances that have contributed to pushing at least one club to the brink of destruction. The collapse of anything News Corporation related could have a devastating effect on media rights, consumer behaviour and ultimately on the government itself. Murdoch’s News Corporation has built empires across the media that could be used to devastating effect to influence its customers for or against any political party or individual.

So, when Vince Cable announced his intentions against Rupert Murdoch was he removed because of his opinion or because of the media mogul’s empire? Jeremy Hunt remains under a cloud of suspicion for his alleged support of the Murdoch’s BSkyB ownership bid so, were the government looking after their own interests? It remains to be seen.

The question is, how does a government declare war without affecting itself? Firstly it appears that the culture committee pushed the ‘not fit and proper’ statement as an opposition requirement. The Labour Party can take the rap for that one then. But on the back of the committee’s report, Ofcom deemed it necessary to consider the position of BSkyB as ‘fit and proper’ to hold a broadcasting licence. Passing this kind of responsibility to a regulatory authority is perhaps another shrewd move that keeps the government off the hook. BSkyB will now have to consider their own involvement with the Murdoch empire to protect themselves.

At the end of this is a straight battle between Murdoch and the ‘authorities’. With the financial, if not moral, position News Corporation holds it seems difficult to imagine who has both the required funds and the trust of government, current and future, to take such a powerful mantle in the world of media.

If only that war had started a lot earlier, how different the face of media could be today…

Last updated: May 3, 2012 at 10:39 am