It’s tempting to suggest that the scandal enveloping the Murdoch media empire may well see the demise of the world’s largest political propaganda machine. Unfortunately, the very fact that it is such a massive propaganda machine will likely ensure that his empire does survive – albeit needing some considerable time to recover.
Apart from being a massive world-wide propaganda machine, Murdoch himself wields much personal and political influence. There are many leaders around the world, past and present, who owe much of their success to Murdoch and his media empire. Even the current British Prime Minister, David Cameron, arguably, may not have got into power without Murdoch’s backing. And Tony Blair too might not have enjoyed such a large victory at the polls as he did in May 1997 without the last minute support of Rupert Murdoch. In the US, Murdoch’s long string of media enterprises, in particular Fox News, helped George W. Bush gain American support for the war against Iraq. Around the world, Murdoch’s newspapers and media served Bush’s cause and those of his allies including Tony Blair; Australia’s Prime Minister of the time, John Howard; Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and Spain’s Jose Maria Aznar, all of whom benefited from Murdoch’s unwavering support for the war. Aznar even went on to become a senior member of the board of directors for News Corporation.
In the current crisis, Cameron initially supported Murdoch in the hope that it would all be just a flash in the pan and, after a few smaller heads were made to roll, all would be well again. Cameron supported Murdoch’s push to buy up all of Britain’s BSkyB media company but, in the wake of the growing crisis and the now obvious fact that it isn’t simply going to go away, Cameron has now joined the political call from Britain’s other major parties for Murdoch to abandon his plans to take over BSkyB which will be a major blow for Murdoch.
As the crisis deepens and it’s becoming apparent that the practice of phone hacking was far more widespread than initially thought, many are wondering how far the practice did extend and to what extent were senior and top managers aware of what was going on or even approved or, worse still, had instigated the practice. Did Murdoch himself know or approve of it? He’s hardly likely to admit it if he did though if he’s hauled up to front an inquiry and denies it and then is subsequently found to be a part of the practice then that surely would be the end of him.
Whether it comes to the demise of Murdoch himself remains to be seen. Murdoch has enough personal wealth to ensure that he will be very comfortable for the rest of his days; however, doing business is his obsession and he wouldn’t last very long without the fix of doing deals so I’d suggest that he’ll fight this all the way – even if it’s just for the thrill of it. Whether he wins or not is another matter.
In Australia, where it all started for Murdoch, his newspapers are relatively safe. His flagship paper, the nationwide The Australian, has all but ignored the crisis on the other side of the world, as have his regional and city papers. All of them seem to be reporting only the bare facts of what’s happened with very little comment or opinion being aired.
For his rival newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald in Sydney and The Age in Melbourne, it’s a different matter. Both have been giving the emerging stories full headlines though the intensity of reporting and commentary has now dropped off a little – at least for now.
A world without Murdoch’s propagandists in it, however, is still some way away though the next few months will likely see some interesting developments that will see them pull their horns in.
Heads will roll; it’s going to be interesting to see whose.