In the wake of the latest damning revelations about the culture and practices prevailing inside the former News International’s newspapers, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has agreed to again front the House of Commons culture, media and sports select committee. This is the same forum in which, two years ago, Murdoch and his son James were cross-examined over the widespread phone-hacking at the now closed News of the World.
This latest instalment in the ‘phone hacking’ scandal, engulfing Murdoch’s UK titles, has been precipitated by a secret recording of a meeting the chairman had with journalists from his Sun newspaper, who have been arrested for allegedly bribing police and other public officials for stories.
The 45-minute secret recording reveals a very different attitude towards the police investigations to that displayed two years ago when he told the parliamentary committee it was “the most humble day of my life”. His UK company and its employees were being investigated over the practices of cash for comment and phone-hacking. In the latest recording, he lashes out at “incompetent police” and vows to hit back when the time is right.
The investigative journalism website, Exaro News, published the clips and they were, in turn, telecast by Channel 4 and have now been reported in all the main Australian news media, but not in News Ltd titles. Murdoch’s comments to the senior journalists include “We’re talking about payments for news tips from cops. That’s been going on a hundred years, absolutely” and “I don’t know of anybody, or anything that wasn’t being done across Fleet Street and wasn’t the culture”.
The newly rebadged News UK has always maintained that Murdoch “never knew of payments made by senior staff to police before the company disclosed that to UK authorities”. He’s expected to appear in the northern autumn when, according to his spokesperson, “Mr Murdoch welcomes the opportunity to return to the Select Committee and answer their questions. He looks forward to clearing-up any misconceptions as soon as possible”.
Once one has acknowledged the delicious irony of the arch phone-hacker being hoist by his own petard, several other questions arise in the wake of this latest News UK blow-up.
It would have been naive to have expected the illegal ‘news gathering’ practices to have magically ended with the Levison Enquiry and the charging of the former News International chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, inter al. Murdoch’s undoubtedly correct when he points out the long history of such practices. But it is still difficult to believe that he, his management and reporters have learned nothing from such a recent, highly publicised and damaging public airing of the corporate ‘dirty laundry’.
Is it the breathtaking arrogance of corporate leaders and high-profile political and media personalities which blinds them to (a) the possibility of their less flattering utterances being leaked and (b) the public reaction to such revelations?
Murdoch is by no means an isolated example. In the recent US Presidential election campaign, Mitt Romney fell foul to a leaked video. Closer to home, the Sydney shock-jock, Alan Jones, plumbed new depths, with his tasteless remarks at a Liberal Party fundraising dinner concerning then PM Julia Gillard and her recently deceased father.
Then, there’s the age old issue of the role of the media in a healthy functioning democracy. Traditionally, it has fallen to the press, and in particular the quality broadsheets, to keep governments, oppositions and all those in authority, both public and private, honest. To shine a light into all the darkest corners of society. But if the same darkest corners include major sections of that very same media, then we’re in deep trouble or, in biblical terms, “if (the) salt has lost its taste how shall its saltiness be restored?”
And, at a more personal, human scale, there’s the question of who should be held to account when these illegal practices are, eventually, revealed. Why should the most recent batch of News employees, those 20 Sun journalists take the rap for policies clearly in place prior to many, if not all of them, joining the company. If this was (and still is) the prevailing culture at News UK papers, with employees expected to conform and encouraged by a policy of the end justifies the means, shouldn’t those who initiated and presided over such policies be held to account? Surely, they, who had the power to extinguish such illegal, corrupting and downright sleazy practices, should be subject to more serious criminal charges than the employees. The latest leaked recording would suggest that at least some of the Sun journalists are asking this question.
What do you think about these latest revelations? Do you think it’s possible to cleanse the media of such anti-social behaviour? Or do you believe that it’s a legitimate defence by the media that the end justifies the means?