The Decline and Fall of News International

News Commentary – July 16, 2011

In a few short weeks Britain’s political landscape has been transformed. In that time we’ve witnessed the demise of Murdoch’s UK media empire and with it an entirely new line coming from British politicians.

For it was only a few years ago that Rupert Murdoch held unrivalled influence over the political process in Britain; indeed his News International had almost as much power as the prime minister’s office itself.

According to Peter Oborne writing in the Telegraph last Thursday, the first person Blair would call after leaving the Labour Party conference hall was Rupert Murdoch. We can only guess as to the nature of those conversations but the fact remains that Blair and Murdoch’s media were working almost hand-in-glove.

This applied as much to Tony Blair’s ministers as to the prime minister himself. So when two of Blair’s senior ministers left office, David Blunkett and Alistair Campbell were both promptly offered columns in Murdoch’s publications.

The unhealthily close relations continued when Gordon Brown took office at No 10. Perhaps culminating when News International’s chief executive, Rebekah Brooks attended a “pyjama party” at Chequers, the prime ministers country residence.

Guests at the “girls’ night” party also included Wendi Murdoch, Rupert’s wife and his daughter, Elisabeth Murdoch.

Even while he was still Chancellor Gordon Brown was already courting Murdoch though, and his attentions extended to others in News International too.

According to one Labour MP who formerly advised Tony Blair, when Irwin Stelzer, one of Murdoch right-hand men,  “visited Number 10, Number 11 always had to make sure he visited them too. It became a competition,” the MP said.

In her memoirs, Gordon Brown’s wife recalls the now notorious “pyjama party” attended by Rebekah Brooks, and describes Rupert Murdoch as “a very solicitous host and very touching in the affection he shows for [his wife] Wendi”.

Those warm relations weren’t to last however, and by 2009 it was becoming increasingly clear that Murdoch was planning to switch his papers political allegiance.

So in what was perhaps a last desperate attempt to retain Murdoch’s backing, November 2009 saw Gordon Brown professing the “most enormous personal regard” for Rupert Murdoch.

Gordon Brown’s “regard” was to no avail and Murdoch switched his papers allegiance to the Conservative Party nonetheless.  Just in time for the next election.

If nothing else though the whole debacle illustrates the patent insincerity of our political leaders. Gordon Brown in particular.

As the crisis engulfing News International reached its peak this week Gordon Brown stood up in parliament to castigate Rupert Murdoch and News International.

The man who once professed his “most enormous high regard” for Murdoch now accused News International of “law breaking on an industrial scale”.

The contrast was all too telling. For in denouncing Murdoch’s “criminal media nexus” Gordon Brown omitted to mention his own role in it. Indeed, he sounded like a man desperately trying to conceal his own crimes by loudly accusing others. 

“Those at News International” said Brown had “marched in step … with members of the criminal underworld.”

“And it was this nexus, this criminal media nexus, claiming to be on the side of the law-abiding citizen,” said Brown, was “in fact standing side by side with criminals”.

But even as Gordon Brown’s words echoed with insincerity, Rupert Murdoch was being forced to apologise.

Perhaps in a desperate attempt to save his crumbling UK holdings, a “humbled and very shaken” Rupert Murdoch apologised to the family of Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl whose phone News International had hacked.

According to the family’s solicitor, Murdoch held his “head in his hands” as he apologised. As well he might, given that he was trying to save a failing UK media empire. So we give his apologies about as much credence as Brown’s condemnation of Murdoch and News International. In short, close to zero.

Nor should we lose sight of the fact that this isn’t confined to News International. Just as Gordon Brown isn’t the only politician who courted his attention, Murdoch isn’t the only man in the media. Together they exemplify the incestuous relationship between politics and media and the patent insincerity currently pervading both.

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