The recent revelations of wrongdoing at the News of the World has brought about a barrage of criticism and hostility against that newspaper’s owners - Rupert Murdoch’s News International. The wrongdoing of course is pretty substantial and includes illegal phone-tapping and illegal payments to members of the police. In typical fashion Murdoch has reacted immediately and has taken the unexpected decision to close down the News of the World completely. Of course this is just a sleight of hand, as another of his papers, the Sun, will now bring out a new Sun on Sunday edition. Rupert Murdoch clearly hopes that most of us will now simply regard the whole issue as closed. This is most unlikely, though some MPs may be willing to continue to give cover to the Murdoch empire.
This brings us to the core of the issue - the over close relationship between politicians and the media moguls and the concentration of media ownership in a few unrepresentative hands. For a key question is why has nothing been done about these illegal practices before now? Evidence about these practices were first filed years ago, yet none in the then Labour government was prepared to take any action. Rupert Murdoch was deemed to be too powerful and our leading politicians were too frightened to challenge him. This in turn was because Murdoch, along with a few other wealthy individuals, has so much control over our media.
It is quite incredible how unrepresentative our media has become, especially the print media. As an article in Left Futures points out: “Murdoch is the most notorious media mogul, but other than the Guardian – which is managed by the Scott Trust – the entire mainstream press is in the hands of wealthy plutocrats.” It is not only the ownership that is a serious issue here, the leading journalists also come from a very restrictive background. The same article claims that: “The journalists themselves come from unrepresentative backgrounds – according to the Sutton Trust, over half of the top 100 journalists are privately educated, with not many over 1 in 10 having attended a comprehensive school.”
This has enormous consequences for our political and economic life. It no doubt explains to a large extent the rise and fall of New Labour. It is amazing that the main left wing party in the UK, the party that is supposed to represent and advocate for the interests and well-being of working people, people who represent the vast majority of the population, has for two decades or more simply advocated and implemented traditional right wing policies. Polices that have done more for the likes of Rupert Murdoch than for ordinary people. We can also see this in the responses of political parties to the current ongoing financial and economic crisis. Just about all have parroted the same neo-liberal lies. We cannot afford decent public services and we cannot afford to increase taxes on the well-off. Not really surprising when we realise that almost all the journalists in the mainstream media are unlikely to use many of our public services and would to subject to any increase in taxation.
Much has been made about the need for plurality in the ownership of our media. However this has to more than just limiting the share that any one person can own. We need to look at who and what these owners represent. In an open and free society there should be at least one genuine left wing newspaper. This issue is even more acute in Scotland where all the mainstream media outlets are staunch supporters of the UK. Despite the fact that the SNP has just won its second successive parliamentary election and this time with an overall majority. How can it be in a supposedly free and open country that all these people are simply unrepresented in the mainstream media?
The future of Rupert Murdoch and his media empire is an important issue, but much more is at stake than just the future of one company. We should use this opportunity to challenge the whole media set-up.