Dial M for Murdoch Reply

Politicians may need to be crazy brave to oppose the interests of the Murdoch press.

Rupert Murdoch, an American by choice since 1985, is the most powerful man in Australian media.  His local company, News Limited, while dominating the Australian press, is but a fraction of a globalised News consortium selling cable and satellite TV, films, music and newspapers.

Dial M for Murdoch is a blistering account of  News International‘s, excesses in Britain, written by Independent newspaper journalist, Martin Hickman, and Tom Watson, a Labour MP.

Watson was one of a group of parliamentarians who overthrew Labor PM, Tony Blair who was believed to have struck a deal with the Murdoch press. (Blair denies this.) After being told that, “my editor will pursue you for the rest of your life”, Watson found himself  described in the Murdoch press as “treacherous”, a “tub of lard” and a “Mad Dog… trained to maul”.

Dial M for Murdoch is his riposte

This book tries to explain how a particularly global media company works; how it came to exert a poisonous, secretive influence on public life in Britain, how it used its huge power to bully, intimidate and to cover up, and how its exposure has changed the way  we look a t our politicians, our police service and our press.

The authors chart the rise of Andy Coulson in his transition from working class boy, to Murdoch’s editor of News of the World, to the Tory PM’s PR to the subject of parliamentary and judicial inquiries. They probe the network of influence around Rebekah Woods, the journalist who learned to sail so she could party with the Murdochs who propelled her rise to editorial power. Coulson and Woods joined a bizarre , competition charged nether world of yellow journalism, populated by ruthless hacks, crooked  private investigators and bent cops .

They claimed to have unknowingly presided over a newspaper culture which tapped phones, paid informants and treated the private lives of “celebrities” as a source of soft porn for general titilation. One such revelation, an investigation of the Formula One motor racing association official, Max Mosley, resulted in perhaps what was the ultimate yellow journalism headline, ” F1 Boss has Sick Nazi Orgy with 5 Hookers!” Instead of ducking for cover, Mosley sued News of the World for breach of privacy enshrined in the British Human Rights Act. The court found in favour of Mosley. In what was to become a routine of dismissive editorials, Murdoch’s Sun newspaper called the ruling a “dark day for for British freedom”. ( In Australia, News columnist, Andrew Bolt was last year found guilty of a serious breach of the Racial Discrimination Act. The decision was characterised as an “attack on free speech”. )

Meanwhile, the political process was seen to accommodate News Corporation interests. Coulson, appointed PR for the  Conservatives, courted Murdoch and his protege, Brooks, to persuade News  to switch its support from Labour.

Politically, his [Murdoch’s] newspapers tend to operate in unison; in 2001 they all backed Labour, in 2005 all but one backed Labour…and in 2010 they all switched to the Conservatives. On polling day.. the Sun ran a stylised front page picture of David Cameron [the Conservative leader] with the headline ‘Our Only Hope’.

The authors claimed that Coulson’s presence at the heart of the new government, ” insulted the growing number of [high profile] individuals who believed their phones had been hacked by News of the World” under his editorship. Pressure for an inquiry increased, eventually forcing Coulson’s resignation. But much worse was to come. On July 4, 2011, the Guardian reported:

The News of the World illegally targeted the missing school girl Milly Dowler and her family…interfering with police inquiries into her disappearance… Scotland Yard is investigating the episode, which is likely to put new pressure on the then editor of the paper, Rebekah Brooks, now Rupert Murdoch’s Chief Executive in the UK; and the then deputy editor, Andy Coulson…

Until then, the victims had been identified as celebrities. But the Murdoch press were seen to be hounding the victims of a horrific crime. Public outrage, fresh parliamentary hearings and the Leveson Inquiry into the ethics of the press, followed in due course. Coulson, Brooks, the Murdoch family, Tony Blair and even the British Prime Minister were called in for questioning, in sittings broadcast on global television.

Tom Watson MP

The News bid for a new satellite broadcast licence faltered and failed. Murdoch closed  the News of the World, but failed to shut down the public furore. Rebekah Brooks resigned and found herself facing charges.

In Australia, News Limited executives claimed all the fuss in Britain, had little to with the company’s local operations. The then News Limited Chief, John Hartigan, said it couldn’t happen here. Watson and Hickman might think otherwise :

From the start of his career in 1950s Australia, Murdoch manipulated politicians and broke rules and promises to accumulate money and power. It may not be possible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he knew about the wrong doing in Britain. Many,  including the authors, think he is at best, guilty of wilful blindness. As the head of the company, he shaped its culture. While he depicted phone hacking as an anomaly, something set apart from an otherwise virtuous organisation, seasoned Murdoch watchers identified the wrong doing as part of a pattern – the greatest manifestation of a win at all costs diktat which bent and broke the rules at will…

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