Murdoch in the dock: the show trial of the century
Never in 40 years of British newspaper ownership has Rupert Murdoch faced questions in the High Court of Parliament. With his son James at his side, followed swiftly by Rebekah Brooks, this trial is likely to be one of the most-watched in broadcast history, if not live, certainly via YouTube. The fact that the phone hacking scandal has already forced a 168-year-old newspaper to close and claimed the scalps of media executives, the two most senior police officers in the country, and yesterday, very sadly, the life of the News of the World reporter who blew the whistle on Andy Coulson, ensures national focus and a global audience. Never before has an obscure Commons committee of tedious backbench MPs been thrust onto the world stage.
So serious is the crisis that the Prime Minister is abandoning the starving in Africa to take the helm of his coalition ship and steer it through the choppy waters. Yet it appears a tsunami is about to hit: if reports are true that he has himself breached the ministerial code, it will be for him to refer himself to the independent adviser on ministers’ interests. There is indeed a prima facie case to answer.
But it’s all a bit of a show. Rupert Murdoch owns three (non-profitable) newspapers and a minority share in BSkyB, the output of which is regulated by Ofcom. In what sense is this an ‘empire’ which exerts ‘too much power over British public life’? So much so that it needs dismantling, regulating and controlling?
It is manifestly true that News International is not ‘the only bad dog on the street’, so this trial must be extended to Paul Dacre and the Mail Group, to the Mirror Group, and to the BBC. It is, after all, about allegations of illicit data gathering in order to secure headlines. It is about the relationship between Parliament and the media, politicians and journalists, and prime ministers and proprietors. It is about the balance between power and scrutiny; influence and manipulation. Ultimately, it is about the right to express an opinion, because if the end result is statutory regulation of the press, another liberty will have been sacrificed to the lust of the state.
So, while the Westminster bubble forms a lynch mob and obsesses about Rupert Murdoch; and while the myopic masses scream for his head along with the scalps of James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks; let us not forget that the most egregious media manipulation emanates from the corridors of Broadcasting House, and more substantial abuses of power may be observed at the Mail and Mirror groups of newspapers.
Come on, Mr Whittingdale. Your time is at hand.