Op-Ed: In defence of Rupert Murdoch

Posted May 3, 2012 by Alexander Baron
After his appearance at the Leveson Inquiry, the knives are out for Rupert Murdoch, but is this almost pathological hatred of the man entirely rational?
There can be little doubt that Rupert Murdoch is one of the most hated men in the media, and that long before this article was written, journalists in particular were queuing up to excoriate him. Whether or not the man has himself done anything criminal, we should a) try to keep a sense of proportion and b) be honest about the reasons he is receiving so much flack.
One reason is that he is both rich and powerful, not powerful by virtue of his office but powerful in his own right. Men who are both rich and powerful make enemies. Even the easy going Bill Gates has been the victim of hatred and vituperation over the years; the guy is giving away billions of dollars, and people read all manner of sinister motives into it.
Rupert Murdoch does not have the same easy going persona as Gates, but he has in his own way been just as entreprenurial, and it is this more than anything else that has led to his incurring the hatred of so many journalists and others who work in the print media.
Like many publishers. Rupert Murdoch has been a pioneer of new technology. That thing in front of you on your desk, or on your lap, or even in your pocket, is a marvellous device that allows you to communicate with the entire world. Even less than 25 years ago that was unthinkable for most people. If you don't believe that, check out what Dr Robin Alston said in 1990: “...I would expect to see great compendia of knowledge...whole texts...all in machine-readable form, and searchable.”
He was then referring to searching in the British Library primarily by academics, not by anyone and everyone.
We take it for granted nowadays that this sort of technology is used for publishing newspapers, including simultaneously on-line. So did Rupert Murdoch back in 1986! The computer age heralded the end of the traditional method of producing newspapers, which was labour intensive and so incredibly laborious that most people nowadays would not credit it. To get some idea of just how laborious it was, check out the Wikipedia article on typesetting.
In 1986, when Rupert Murdoch moved “Fleet Street” to Wapping in the East End of London, there was massive, militant and at times violent resistance from the Luddites of the trades union movement, supported by the comrades of the Socialist Workers Party. Check out this article from last year written a quarter of a century on. The SWP is still railing at Murdoch, and they are railing at him using the same technology he introduced! Talk about hypocrisy. Yes, he reduced his workforce by 6,000, but look at News International today. If he hadn't moved with the times, somebody else would have, and his company would have gone down the tubes. If the SWP and the print unions had had their way, we would have seen no computers used in the media at all. Can you imagine what sort of world that would be?
Socialist Worker is produced on somebody's desktop and printed using state of the art equipment; it is also set in HTML and posted on-line. Fine, slag off Murdoch comrades, but be consistent, go back to producing your newspapers the old way. Or perhaps you could hire a few thousand monks who will produce it in ye goode old-fashioned way, on parchment with goose quill pens?
While some of the testimony the Leveson Inquiry has heard has been both truthful and sickening, to what degree is Murdoch personally responsible for this? It wasn't Rupert Murdoch who hounded Charlotte Church making lewd innuendo about her personal life. Heather Mills - the former wife of the multi-talented Paul McCartney - has had her named dragged through the mud not simply by the tabloid press but by the likes of Jonathan Ross. And it was the Murdoch-owned Sun and the non-Murdoch Mirror that were found in contempt over their reporting of the murder of Joanna Yeates, and their pointing the finger at her former landlord, Chris Jefferies.
The most sickening revelation of the Leveson Inquiry though was the hacking of the mobile phone of a teenage murder victim. Amanda Jane Dowler disappeared off the face of the Earth in March 2002. Her body was not found for six months, so until then her family lived in hope that she was still alive. It was not Rupert Murdoch who hacked her phone, but it was Murdoch who revealed that unlike his lieutenant Rebekah Brooks, he understood the value of humility. He apologised personally to the Dowler family, and there can be no doubt that this was a sincere apology rather than a belated damage limitation exercise.
It is true that Rupert Murdoch is the man at the top of the pyramid, and as a certain American president once said, the buck stops here, but there are limits to this personal liability. Was the Police Commissioner held personally accountable for the antics of Commander Ali Dizaei? Obviously not, and there is no credible evidence that Rupert Murdoch would ever have countenanced such sickening behaviour, much less knowingly paid for it.
Inheriting a great name does not make one great, as Lord Lucan proved, and James Murdoch is certainly not cut from the same cloth as his old man, but he is far more responsible for the shenanigans that went on at the late and unlamented News Of The World and elsewhere in the Murdoch empire. Having said that, there is another person to blame for the muckraking and wanton scandalmongering of that Sunday tabloid and its extant sister paper, the Sun. That is the proverbial man on the Clapham Omnibus. It is all good and fine for people to complain these papers and similar ones pander to the lowest common denominator, but no one puts a gun to the head of the public and forces it to buy or even read them on-line. If the British public is fed rubbish it is because it demands rubbish, and of course it is not only the British public but ordinary people the world over.
There have certainly been some valid criticisms made of Rupert Murdoch, but these are hardly new. Namely that he has at times used his power to endorse, influence or even elect governments. In the first place, this is a right we all have, in theory at any rate, including this very day as London elects a new - or perhaps the same - mayor. Everyone has the right to lobby the government, to make representations: charities do it; the unions do it; all manner of minorities do it; but when the high and mighty do it, it becomes sinister. Press barons have been around long before Rupert Murdoch appeared on the scene, and will be around long after he has left. Talking of which, Murdoch is now 81 years old, this is an age at which most men are content to put their feet up, or do something less strenuous. It may be that like the Queen Mother he will have another twenty years; he would be well advised to enjoy them, after delegating to a worthy successor, ie not his son James.
One thing Britain if not the world should be grateful to Murdoch for, saving the Times. Founded as The Daily Universal Register way back in 1785, this newspaper can be found on microfilm in all the world's great research libraries, and is now on-line back to its first issue. The Times is arguably the world's premier English language newspaper, and its future looks secure.
His pioneering of both new technology and the old and trustworthy has left Murdoch a legacy of which he should be proud. Far better he be remembered for that than for some of the unseemly goings on that has been financed by the empire he created.