Facing all-party political pressure, Murdoch’s takeover of BSkyB is dead. The House of Commons has voted unanimously against Rupert Murdoch and even PM David Cameron called on the “disgraceful” News International to drop Sky Broadcasting deal. Murdoch has withdrawn his bid. Rupert, his son James, and Rebekah Brooks, NOTW former Editor and now CEO of News International, face the culture committee tomorrow.
Recent allegations are making it far clearer that the top players can be held accountable for what was previously dismissed as a few bad apples. For example, allegations surfaced last week that as early as 2002, Scotland Yard met Rebekah Brooks and warned her about criminals acting on her behalf. A junior editor who was implicated was promoted instead of fired. “…editor of the News of the World Rebekah Brooks was confronted with evidence that her paper’s resources had been used on behalf of two murder suspects to spy on the senior detective who was investigating their alleged crime.”
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave a rousing speech at the Commons debate Wednesday. Brown accused the conservatives (Tories) of letting News International dictate their media policy. “The press should be our greatest defense against the abuse of power. But it had instead become our greatest abuser of power.”
Gordon Brown’s speech during the Commons debate Wednesday:
Summary of Brown’s speech:
• Brown said the civil service has blocked his attempt to hold an inquiry into phone hacking when he was prime minister. He asked Sir Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary, to look at this. But he was advised not to set one up. Brown read out from the advice he received.
• He said his relationship with News International was “neither cosy nor comfortable”.
• He launched a bitter attack on News International for invading people’s privacy.
• He accused News International of “law-breaking often on an industrial scale, at its worst dependent on its links with the British criminal underworld.”
• He defended the principle of the freedom of the press.
Brown said, “At all times I have defended the right of the press to expose any wrongdoing wherever it is found and to speak truth to power however uncomfortable it is and indeed was for me. It is my judgment that we should reform but never undermine something so fundamental to our ordered liberty, our twin commitments to both the freedom of the information and a free press.”
The Murdoch empire was labeled as “anti-entrepreneurial” and “profoundly uncompetitive”. These are words that should resonate on this side of the pond, for they fly in the face of the modern day conservative argument for media conglomerations. Questions surrounding the takeover of the media by one conglomerate abound.
Labour’s Chris Bryant suggested that NI should not be allowed to keep any of its shares in BSkyB, claiming that if the Murdoch’s failed to show Thursday for the committee meeting, they were done in Britain. Bryant suggested that worse scandals were to come, as Peter Clarke, the former Scotland Yard officer, says that News International “thwarted” the police investigation.
Conservatives were attacked for taking “pro-Murdoch” stances.
John Whittingdale, the Conservative chairman of the culture committee said, “If Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks refused to appear, the committee would come to the Commons to ask it ‘to use the powers available to ensure witnesses attend’.”
Accusations were flying in the debate, with Labour accusing Brown of allowing NOTW to get away with their smears on Labour, Brown suggesting worse crimes had been committed (against himself?), and conservatives who had previously defended Murdoch now accusing Brown of ignoring the problem, with Brown reading the official stand down response he got when he asked for an inquiry. The corruption inherent within this scandal is highlighting the issue of abuse of power and brings to mind “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. In this instance, we have a media conglomerate with too much power, owning too many media outlets.
The News International scandal is a prime example of a corporate conglomerate with too much power abusing that power.
The Guardian weighed in, “For all the talk in recent days of how the Murdoch empire has courted, captured and abased the political class of the UK, it is worth remembering that in this carefully balanced corrupt ecosystem, Murdoch companies very rarely run against the government of the day. In buying newspapers, confounding print unions, establishing satellite broadcast operations and engineering mergers and avoiding bankruptcies, News International has always enjoyed the support of the majority party, be it Thatcher, Major, Blair or Brown.”
Lest we miss the implications of this statement regarding our own government, it is no doubt easy to squeeze even begrudging support from elected officials and police whose personal lives have been hacked by the entity seeking support.
Prime Minister David Cameron even called for the prosecution of Andy Coulson, his former head of communications, if it turns out that he lied when he claimed that he knew nothing of the phone hacking scandal when he was editor of NOTW. Cameron said, “We should look at amending the laws, we should make sure the fit and proper test is right, we should make sure the competition and enterprise acts are right.”
Those words are no doubt causing a stir of fear for conservatives on this side of the pond, who have banded together to protect unholy alliances and mega mergers in the name of free enterprise and free market. Having living proof that monopolies essentially kill free enterprise and competition (the foundation of the free market) pointed out by a conservative ally will not sit well with American Republicans.
In America, two Democratic Senators called for a probe of News Corp. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D -N.J.) asked the DoJ and the SEC to investigate whether anyone at News Corp violated anti-bribery laws and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D- W. VA.) asked U.S. authorities to investigate whether American phones were hacked.The DOJ and the FCC declined comment.
Until Republicans join in on this call, I doubt we will see any movement toward News Corp probe, as the all too common tactic of conservative cries of “partisan politics” will silence the wail of justice ignored. The conservatives in Britain used the same tactic to silence Brown and others earlier calls for investigations into NI. While our DOJ and FCC duck their responsibility to us (see accusations of ignoring this problem now coming from all sides in Britain above), Americans are no doubt shocked to learn that we have been subsidizing the propaganda network of Fox News to the tune of $4.8 billion in income tax refunds.
Reuters reports that Murdoch’s News Corp pays a negative 46 percent in taxes here. The fact that a “news” network devoted to the evils of taxes and the refuge of “job creators” being “punished” by high taxes not paying one dime but instead getting billions of dollars of our money to make sure more of our taxes go straight into their pockets so that they can demonize the working class is beyond the pale.
I have little confidence in our own government to remedy this situation. These are the folks, after all, who left President Obama twisting in the wind when he called out News Corp’s Fox News several years ago, and these are the same people who refuse to prosecute certain war criminals because all of the players (media and government) are complicit in the lie. We have allowed Fox’s attacks to defund and discredit ACORN, Planned Parenthood, NPR, and numerous individuals.
It’s shocking that these scandals are coming to light at all in Britain, given the hold the Murdoch empire has on elected officials and police there. As Jason Easley pointed out on PoliticusUSA, the fact that so many witnesses are now coming forward is the result of the domino effect stemming from the piercing of Murdoch’s previously invincible façade.
It remains to be seen if this same jumping of the Murdoch ship will catch fire here in America. I can’t fathom of a world in which Republicans would join Democrats in calling for an investigation of possible criminal wrongdoing by Murdoch in this country, but I’d love to be proven wrong.
If we don’t even see an investigation, that in and of itself will be a damning indictment of the undemocratic hold Murdoch has over our government, and while some Democrats are bold enough to stand up to him, I would not be surprised to learn that there are many who have been cowed into compliance and silence in the same manner as it now appears the Scotland Yard investigators were.
Update: Politico is reporting that New York Republican Pete King “is calling on the FBI to investigate whether Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation hacked into the voicemail accounts of Sept. 11 victims, calling the allegations of the scandal ‘disgraceful.'” I wonder if he knows that he parroted David Cameron with the word “disgraceful”, whose choice of descriptors was telling, given that he has yet to explain his hiring of now “disgraced” Coulson.
There might be hope for this country after all.
Credo almost has the signatures they need on their petition asking congress to call for an investigation.
Update: Reuters author made a mistake with the math re Rupert’s taxes. News Corp does pay taxes; however, they pay under 20 percent (just over half of what they are supposed to pay). News Corp has the third largest number of subsidiaries in tax havens, a Government Accountability Office study found in 2009.