Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Murdoch – end of empire?

In A.Graham on October 3, 2011 at 11:37 am

As accusations of telephone hacking at the “News of the World” spread like wildfire, it suddenly seemed that triumph for Rupert Murdoch, boss of its parent company News Corporation, had turned to disaster.

It all erupted just when it seemed as if his bid to become sole owner of the TV satellite company BSkyB was in the bag. By the beginning of July, the Government had all but given the go-ahead to Murdoch’s bid for the remaining shares in the TV company.

Then came fresh revelations of hacking at the News of the World that reached right to the top – to the desk of Rebekah Brook, former editor of the paper, and latterly chief executive of News Corporation. Recent charges against the paper (and by implication its editor) are emotive. They include the hacking into the phone of murder victim, Millie Dowler.


Rupert Murdoch, who arrived in Britain from Australia many years ago to buy up the ailing Sun newspaper along with the mass circulation News of the World, has built up a formidable global media empire. He is now an American citizen (where he also owns newspapers and TV stations including the Fox News channel).

In the UK he built a cosy relationship with Margaret Thatcher. In return for his support, she helped him to build up his media empire in Britain – to the point where it was claimed that no party could win an election unless it had Murdoch’s backing (a claim that Tony Blair certainly seemed to believe).

According to a feature by Independent columnist Matthew Norman, Thatcher “politicised the police by using them as a political truncheon at Wapping, as with the simultaneous miners’ strike”.


The events at Wapping in the mid-1980s were directly related to Murdoch’s successful attempts to get rid of the  “troublesome” print unions and to bring in strike-breaking workers in their place. He used Thatcher’s new anti-union legislation to out-manoeuvre the print workers and hammer them into the ground. Over five thousand workers lost their jobs – and received no redundancy pay. For years afterwards his print works surrounded by razor wire fences were known as “Fortress Wapping”.

In his article, Matthew Norman suggested that at that time an implicit agreement came into being between Murdoch, Thatcher and the police (what he described as a “tripartite partnership”). Now it’s not up to us to suggest that any such relationship has continued – but the Metropolitan Police were significantly tardy in taking seriously any allegations of phone hacking at the Murdoch press. It was claimed that it was one “rogue individual” – and once he had become the sacrificial lamb, any enquiry by Scotland Yard lapsed.

Here it might have gone no further, if it hadn’t been for the persistence of certain sections of the non-Murdoch press, the Guardian in particular. But still the police dragged their feet until as revalations mounted, they had no option but to act.


And what of Cameron’s part in all this? Now, how the Murdoch media empire conducts its business is its own dubious affair. And David Cameron is his own man. But could it be possible that he had thoughts of re-kindling the relationship that Thatcher enjoyed with Murdoch?

Cameron hired ex-Murdoch man, Andy Coulson, as his media su
premo (every Prime Minister has to have one these days it seems). And, in retrospect, he may regret attending a party at the home of Murdoch’s daughter, in the company of Rebekah Brooks. At the time, though, he claimed that he was merely visiting the home of a constituent. And he was also keen to ensure that Murdoch’s bid for full ownership of BSkyB was taken out of the hands of Vince Cable and given instead to a more pliant member of his Government. It has since been revealed that he met up with Murdoch’s executives no less that 26 times since becoming PM.

Cameron has now (no doubt reluctantly) announced a full independent enquiry into News Corp’s internal workings. Such an enquiry is long overdue – Meanwhile, the story continued to unravel. Later developments include Murdoch’s abrupt decision to cease publication of the News of the World, and the arrest of its former editor (and Cameron’s one-time press aid), Andy Coulson.

Then came the news that Murdoch was withdrawing his bid to take over bSkyb – and that Rebekah Brook had resigned her position as chief executive of News International. Sir Paul Stephenson, Chief Commissioner at the Met, has had to step down – and rumours suggest that the Murdoch empire in the UK may be under threat. As they say, watch this space!

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