Rupert Murdoch’s long legacy in the UK

LONDON — In July 1995, Tony Blair was so popular in Britain that he was considered prime minister two years before the election that would crown him. Nevertheless, he felt it necessary to fly 25 hours to the other side of the world to make his case to a man named Rupert Murdoch.

Blair’s trip to the Australian resort of Hayman Island on the Great Barrier Reef – and his return to London the next day – is a symbol of singularity and critics will say reflects the damaging effect Murdoch has had on leaders in Britain and his native Australia for decades. .

Blair told the public in 2012, “I wouldn’t have gone all over the world if it hadn’t been for a very deliberate and, again, very strategic decision that I was going to go and persuade them. An inquiry into media ethics,” recalled the Hayman Island trip he addressed at the media mogul’s News Corp conference. The minimum objective was to stop them tearing us to pieces, and the maximum objective was to open the way to support, if possible.”

Rupert Murdoch and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Washington in 2008. Kevin Lamarck/Reuters file

After the 92-year-old Murdoch announced Thursday that he would step down as chairman of Fox Corp. and News Corp., much of the debate in the U.S. has focused on Fox News’ influence on American politics. Media Matters is a liberal watchdog group that monitors conservative media A legacy of “deceit, destruction and death”.

But long before he turned his attention to American broadcasting, he grew a modest Australian newspaper business into a print empire that dispensed bitter opinions from Canberra to London. Murdoch’s domain also included a 39% controlling stake in British broadcaster Sky before being bought by NBC News’ parent Comcast in 2018.

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Divisions are bitter and polarized. Supporters lauded him for saving the British newspaper industry by smashing powerful print unions in the mid-1980s.

“He has inky fingers; he loves newspapers,” said Kudo Harry, who served under Murdoch as director of communications and corporate affairs for News UK, publisher of The Sun, The Times and Sunday Times, between 2012 and 2015.

“He’d be in the office earlier than you in the morning,” said Harry, who was a senior press adviser to Boris Johnson, first London mayor and then prime minister. “He’d read all the day’s papers, and then he’d start asking people questions about whether they were on the editorial staff, finance, or driving delivery trucks. He was into the whole thing.”

Rupert Murdoch, publisher of the National Star, in the tabloid’s newsroom in Manhattan on February 7, 1975. Naomi Laston/Newsday RM via Getty Images File

Critics believe Murdoch has disgraced rather than saved the industry: the phone-hacking scandal that led to journalists intercepting the voicemails of hundreds of high-profile figures and ultimately the closure of his News of the World tabloid in 2011; Topless “Page 3” women who graced the sun until 2015; and a general disregard for journalistic ethics, privacy and accuracy.

“I see a complete reversal in the Murdoch years in England,” said Steven Barnett, professor of communications at the University of Westminster, London. “I think he undermined journalistic standards,” he said Burnett is a Murdoch critic on the group Hacked Off, a group set up after the phone-hacking scandal to campaign for press regulation.

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He added that Murdoch had overseen a culture of “misinformation, bullying, misogyny, homophobia and racism” and had a “totally negative impact on British culture and British democracy”.

In Murdoch’s statement Thursday, News Corp., when asked about the criticism against Murdoch, pointed NBC News to the line: “Elites have an open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class. Much of the media collaborates with those elites, spreading political narratives rather than following the truth.

Rupert Murdoch with his son Lachlan Murdoch in New York in 2015.Evan Agostini / Invision / AP Files

Some who have met Murdoch deny that he is a “big, bad b—–,” as Blair’s spin doctor and media enforcer, Alistair Campbell, recalled in his memoirs, “The Blair Years,” the conversation between him and his former boss afterward. -Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating.

In Australia, Murdoch owned more than half of the country’s newspapers.

Back home, many revere what is the country’s most successful and influential global business story. “He’s been a controversial figure in many ways, but also an influential figure,” Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers told Australian broadcaster ABC.

But there are many, including former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who said on Friday that Murdoch had “done enormous damage to the democratic world – particularly the US” and accused him of “inciting anger”.

In England, the link between Murdoch’s blessing and political power is so striking that The Sun, one of Britain’s most widely read papers, has had a 100% record of backing winning candidates since 1979. Its apology came only after the ruling Conservative Party. He won the 1992 general elections when many predicted defeat. “It’s the Sun Voted Won It,” the Sun front page announced the next day, following years of mockery of the opposition Labor Party.

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Murdoch’s supporters say he is absolutely right to make his case to future governors, newspaper owners and editors who represent millions of readers, and thus the nation’s opinions. Critics argue that these principals often advocate for their own interests, not for the interests of their readers.

Although Blair has always denied an unspoken agreement with Murdoch, one of his special advisers, Lance Price, wrote in the book “Where Powers Lie: Prime Ministers V Media” that “although no deal was made, nothing was done. In writing,” it “would have left Murdoch to pursue his business interests in peace, and he would have given Labor He assured that he would give a fair wind”.

With the decline of newspaper dominance and the rise of social media, concern about Murdoch’s controlling influence has diminished. But some believe his handing over the chairmanship to his eldest son Lachlan Murdoch means he’s out of the picture altogether.

“He’s made it clear that he’s going to keep a good eye on Junior, so the idea of ​​him walking away and letting Lachlan run the whole show as he wants scares the birds,” Barnett said. University of Westminster.

“It’s basically about money, it’s about self-enrichment and enrichment for the company,” he added. “And I suspect he’ll be more than happy to have a steamroller over any journalistic ethics that might interfere with that.”

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