MURDOCH’S FOLLIES (written for BECA 240, Video Production I, San Francisco State University, October 2012)
The legal troubles of international media owner Rupert Murdoch (whose American holdings include the Fox TV network, Fox News Channel, and the Wall Street Journal) have been less visible in the news than last year, but they have not gone away.
On Sept. 26, 2012, the New York Times reported that a trial date of Sept. 9, 2013 has been set for former News Of The World editors Rebekah Brooks and Alan Coulson in connection with the British phone-hacking scandal of last year, which involved News Of The World staffers hacking into the voice mail account of a 13-year-old murder victim, among many others. The two, along with five journalists and a private investigator, face numerous charges, also including “phone hacking, conspiring conspiracy to hide evidence and corrupting public officials.” (Cowell, 2012) The close relationship between Brooks and Coulson and the Conservative British government of Prime Minister David Cameron has also drawn criticism in the UK.
Murdoch himself has taken steps to control the damage and rehabilitate the image of his businesses. In a story posted on Oct. 1 in The Hollywood Reporter, we learn that Murdoch has hired five new executives at News Corporation to head five divisions of the company’s new compliance team. The new officers will report to general counsel Gerson Zweifach, who was hired earlier this year. Zweifach “has since added the role as chief compliance officer, pushing ahead efforts to establish a team and procedures that can help avoid the problems that surfaced in the phone hacking scandal.” (Szalai, 2012)
But even as News Corporation appears to be trying to move on from their problems in Britain, another issue is erupting in the US. An ABA Journal article from the same day states that News Corporation is now drawing the interest of federal prosecutors, who are deciding whether Murdoch’s organization should be charged for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. “In addition to possible Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations, prosecutors in the United States are investigating whether News Corp. hacked the phones of 9/11 victims’ families. In an effort to buy silence, since the mid-2000s U.S. subsidiaries of News Corp. also have paid more than $650 million to opponents.” (Gibeaut, 2012) These possible actions are already being fought vigorously by the Republican-dominated U.S. Chamber Of Commerce and the editorial page of Murdoch’s own Wall Street Journal.
I suspect that the stories of corruption we have begun to hear are only the tip of the iceberg. Murdoch’s news outlets, if they can even be legitimately called that, have so debased political discourse in the US that it does not surprise me at all that they are now being linked with criminal activity. All large corporations endeavor to affect the political climate in which they do business, but Murdoch has gone beyond this by spending the last twenty years fabricating an alternative reality that a significant portion of this nation’s population takes as gospel, no matter how many falsehoods they report. Again, it is not at all surprising to discover that their employees have been behaving like the secret police of a military dictatorship under the radar.
I certainly would support any and all government investigation into corruption and crimes against innocent citizens that may have been committed. On the other hand, we must recognize Murdoch is a powerful man with very powerful friends, and without a significant amount of grass roots activism to keep the public’s attention focused on News Corporation’s activities, all of these stories may easily fade into public memory with no consequences for the perpetrators.
Gibeaut, J. (2012). Foreign exchanges: Rupert Murdoch, embattled in the UK, grapples with US bribery law. ABA Journal, Retrieved from http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/foreign_exchanges_rupert_murdoch_embattled_in_the_u.k._grapples_with_u.s._b/
Szalai, G. (2012). News corp. hires five leaders for compliance team in wake of phone hacking scandal. The Hollywood Reporter, Retrieved from http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/news-corp-hires-five-compliance-team-phone-hacking-401231
Cowell, A. (2012, September 26). Former Murdoch aides appear in court. The New York Times. Retrieved from Cowell, A. (2012, September 26). Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/27/world/europe/andy-coulson-and-rebekah-brooks-to-appear-in-court.html?_r=0