Saturday, July 16, 2011

How the Murdoch outrage exposed Britain's hypocrisy

I'm lucky I don't live in England any more.

Because if I did, I swear I would have gone postal over the last two weeks of self-righteous social media inanity fueled by the allegations against Rupert Murdoch.

Don't get me wrong - I think it was disgusting and repellent how News of the World reporters hacked into the phone accounts of dead and missing people.

But I also think it's kind of disgusting and repellent for an entire nation to blithely ignore the fact that this despicable behavior had made the News of the World their Sunday Tabloid du choix.

From the Tweets and Facebook posts I've read from England, you might be led to believe that nobody read the News of the World at all.

Yet if everybody who claimed this week that they never read Britain's most popular paper were telling the truth, it wouldn't have been Britain's most popular paper in the first place!

What really annoyed me about the whole Rupert Murdoch scandal was how it lead to the demise of the BSkyB deal he'd been orchestrating.

Not that I was particularly supportive of the merger: I worked in Britain's commercial radio business for a number of years, and heard a lot of well-constructed arguments about why selling Murdoch a majority share in the company would have been a bad idea.

Yet it took the News of the World scandal to finally stop the previously inevitable merger going through - all at the self-satisfied behest of a twittering nation and a cock-crowing parliament.

Well, they should hold their applause.

For a start, the News of the World scandal and the merger were effectively unrelated; so to use one as justification for ending the other is absurd. Secondly, the reason I'd always been receptive to the BskyB merger was because it would never have created the gigantic, politicized media monopoly critics claimed it would - largely because a gigantic, politicized media monopoly already exists in the U.K. - the BBC.

The BSkyB merger would have actually done the opposite of what critics claimed - and finally created legitimate media competition where none previously existed.

If fact the only difference between Murdoch's enterprise and the BBC - aside from the deliciously beneficial edge of corporate competition - was the fact that you could CHOOSE to watch and support BSkyB, while the BBC remains an essentially mandated government service (as anybody whose got rid of the TV - and endured threatening phone calls and letters as a result - will attest to.)

This is why I think criticism of the BSkyB deal was always so hypocritical. Every complaint I heard was always commenced by ignoring the billion-dollar elephant in the corner of the room - the BBC. You can't rationally discuss the commercial media circus in Britain without acknowledging how enormously skewed it is by the very existence of the BBC.

And that leads me onto the last thing that annoyed the hell out of me about the Rupert Murdoch scandal: the totally unjustifiable level of smug, self satisfaction behind those who championed the demise of the News of the World and the torpedoing of the BskyB deal.

Last week, it honestly seemed like democracy had been temporarily suspended, and instead of being run by a representative parliament, the United Kingdom turned over its sovereignty to a self-appointed committee of tedious Guardian readers who together decided "what was best for all of us." Which, in this case, was skuttling the BSkyB merger.

For all of Rupert Murdoch's character flaws, I'll say this for him: At least he's honest about being a money-grubbing crook and despicable human being. As last week revealed, his fiercest critics tend to be every bit as cynical and self-serving as he is - but under a disgustingly transparent veil of unjustified self-righteousness.

They're inconsistent, hypocritical and partisan - and sadly, becoming more and more representative of the idiots running Britain into the ground.

2 comments:

Ken Rayner said...

I don't think there's a single person who DID buy the News of the World that would have supported "disgusting and repellant" actions in order to provide them with entertainment. Certainly, something close to 100% of people who bought that paper would not have endorsed these actions had they known they were taking place. I think the majority of people who used to buy that tabloid newspaper would have made a consicous decision not to buy it had they known the extent of the criminal behaviour.

I would like to take issue with your assertion that the two events (demise of News of the World and the ending of the takeover process for BSkyB) are unrelated. First, both events were the decisions of the corporate; that's to say, both decisions were taken by Rupert Murdoch in the best interests of his company. Shareholders would have had nothing different.

Second, the two are related as they point towards the rule that media organisations in the UK should be owned by "fit and proper" persons. It's clear that News International, with Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch at the helm, were no longer fit & proper. But that's a mute point given the fact that News Corporation themselves withdrew their offer for BSkyB. They may well come back later.

I'm no fan of the BBC monopoly - in fact, I'm on record as arguing that the licence fee is effectively a tax and that they fail to give value in many areas. That said, corporate governance at the BBC can hardly be compared to that for News Corp. It's not perfect and is undergoing review, but the BBC Trust, which replaced the previous BBC governors, at least is fully publicly accountable. News Corp's board are only accountable to their shareholders; themselves.

It wasn't Guardian readers, or the Twitterati, the UK Parliament or anyone else that "torpedoed" the deal, or killed off the News of the World. Murdoch did both of those things himself in the best interests of his shareholders, which you would expect him to do. Most people I know are not "crowing" about the demise of the News of the World. Up to 200 people, mostly completely innocent people, lost their jobs which is in itself a sad event. Further, a newspaper that *had* in the past done some good and sterling journalistic work was taken out of an increasingly monopolistic media market. That, in itself, is saddening.

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