The Murdoch crisis has opened a window onto the moral, political and economic corruption that permeates establishment circles. The pundits, police and politicians who preach the rule of law—the same people who vilify unionists and other activists whose resistance pushes the boundaries—have been shown to treat their own law and order with contempt.
Early attempts to brush off phone hacking as an isolated action, perpetrated by a few bad apples, have failed.
Now the questions have escalated: just how much did Rupert Murdoch know, and when? How complicit was British Prime Minister David Cameron?
There are implications in all this for Australia. Murdoch owns daily papers in every capital bar Canberra, the national Australian and swathes of weekly publications. His papers are leading the charge against the carbon tax and the Gillard government.
Murdoch monitors his media. When I worked at the Herald Sun, the first 11 pages of the paper were faxed each night to him, wherever he was in the world. Editors fear Murdoch’s call and hasten to anticipate his wishes.
So far, however, there is no evidence of the phone hacking seen in Britain. This is not because Murdoch’s lieutenants in Australia are kinder or more ethical. Rather, it reflects the relatively stronger position of unions within newspapers here.
In Britain, Murdoch led the charge to smash newspaper unions. Voices of dissent were silenced. When News editors began to use illegal means to steal stories from competitors—hacking phones, bribing cops—journalists were effectively powerless.
In Australia, the journalists’ union is still strong enough to hold the line on ethics at Fairfax publications and within the ABC. Even at News, the union has about 30 per cent membership and some influence.
In Britain, however, the rot has gone very deep. In the space of a week, Britain’s top cop, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, his Assistant Commissioner John Yates, and head of News International Rebekah Brooks all resigned.
They were brought down by The News of the World’s systematic use of illegal phone hacking, the police’s hiring of key journalists at the heart of the scandal, and the police’s failure to investigate phone hacking despite abundant evidence.
Murdoch has had to close the Sunday paper, abandon his bid for total control of Britain’s pay TV channel and front a British parliamentary committee.
His son, James, who appeared alongside him, has since been accused of lying by former senior journalists.
Tories in trouble
Cameron, too, is in trouble. He hired a former News heavy-hitter as his media adviser. Now he has had to admit that he shared at least 26 dinners and other engagements with News International executives in just over a year.
The scandal shows the influence Murdoch has wielded on British politics. But it also comes at a time when the Cameron government is beginning to lose its way—dealing with a backlash to its austerity plans that has included a national strike by 750,000 public sector workers.
This puts the unholy alliance between Cameron’s Tories and the Murdoch media at risk. Murdoch will find it difficult to campaign credibly for the Tories’ cuts through his remaining publications, which include the mass circulation Sun.
Cameron in turn will not be able to ride to the Murdoch family’s rescue. There remains the real prospect that the scandal is yet to claim scalps at the highest level.
The ruling class under capitalism is, as Karl Marx put it, a band of warring brothers. They unite against the workers—the government pushing through austerity, the police cracking heads on demonstrations and the mass media trying to fill heads with reactionary and racist arguments that lead to pessimism, despair and defeat.
This has been the story of News, the Tories (and Britain’s Labour government before it) and the police who kettle and, on occasion, kill those who protest.
In the context of the big lies over war in Afghanistan and Iraq, cuts to public sector pensions and anti-Muslim racism, phone hacking went unnoticed for years (and not just at News publications—both Britain’s Daily Mirror and Daily Mail look set to be drawn into the scandal).
But once the real story began to trickle out, the warring brothers began to dob each other in and the façade began to crumble.
The British ruling class is exposed and vulnerable. The best revenge would be for unionists to fight back against the Tories and their media apologists.
By David Glanz
The corrupt heart of Murdoch’s empire