Plots and Gameplans

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Scandalous news coverage and unethical practices have rocked the mogul’s boat more than once

BY MR DUA


LIKE Murdoch, like his journalism. It is difficult to ignore media czar, Rupert Murdoch. With some 150 newspapers and news entities across the globe, he influences life in a major way. STAR’s numerous channels in India are a living proof of this. He has been called “an empire builder and a political kingmaker.”
When he entered journalism, the profession was not only highly respected, it was immensely paying as well. It was only around the end of the 20th century that the media scene transformed, with scandals, sex, juicy and sensational stuff changing the spirit of news journalism altogether. Murdoch’s numerous publications have uniquely contributed to this trend worldwide: The New York Post and The Village Voice in the US; News of the World and The Sun in the UK, for instance.
In the process, Murdoch’s publications have multiplied in circulation and his cash registers have been constantly rising.

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THE SCREECHING HEIGHTS

When he started, Murdoch was brimming with ideas to serve the people. At the launch of his daily newspaper, The Australian, in July 1964, in Sydney, he had outlined his mission: “…impartial information, independent thinking…speak fearlessly, outspoken, vigor, truth, and information without dullness, new approach to national journalism.”(sic)

However, Murdoch’s journalism, as practiced in the UK or the US, did not exactly pursue the path of high journalistic ethics that he had vouched for. In over 65 years that his media establishments worldwide have operated, almost all of these edicts have been compromised.

When Murdoch’s mass-circulation London-based weekly, News of the World (NOW), was caught resorting to fraud, untruths, sexual sensationalism and other scandalous reportage through voicemail hacking, the fraudulent practices came to light.

STORM TOSSED

The matter catapulted to a big scandal when 14-year-old Miley Dowler’s voicemail was breached; she felt humiliated, and committed suicide. The unfortunate incident resulted in a high-level probe by a British parliamentary panel.

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The panel’s report leveled unprecedented and unparalleled reprimand and censure against NOW’s staff.

Murdoch, along with his eldest son Lachlan, and all of NOW’s reporters and editors, were in hot water. They not only abundantly apologized, the paper paid millions in damages to all others whose voicemails were hacked; some of NOW’s journalists were put behind bars to serve long jail terms, and some were fined. NOW was shut down for good.
The investigators discovered that Lachlan, in-charge of NOW, didn’t exercise strict vigil on what was appearing in its columns. The parliamentary committee censured Lachlan for “willful ignorance” and “astonishing lack of curiosity” regarding the criminal behavior of his subordinates. He later quit and went to New York.

Murdoch’s Fox Television News channel is notorious for its patently biased, prejudiced, one-sided talk shows and news coverage of the opposition Democratic Party, the White House, and even the 2016 presidential nomination hopefuls such as the former First Lady and Secretary Of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton. In addition, daily talk programs anchored by Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, morning news coverage, and weekly shows like Mike Huckabee and Ann Coulter dole out endless acrimony, sowing the seeds of racial upheaval and social dissatisfaction.

TEETERING EMPIRE ?

Meanwhile, rumors are rife in the US that at The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), major reorganization is on the agenda, as the paper is passing through a rough period. It will cut 100 editorial jobs and “shift resources to the digital media and core coverage areas.”

Also its blogs and overseas bureaus would close to effect “full transformation of the newsroom with a bold, simple aim: to become the premier digital news organization in the world.” WSJ, however, plans to beef up hiring in “mobile offerings, interactive graphics and data driven journalism”, and invest in top newsroom executives with core coverage strength of economics and markets.
Murdoch was also in the news in India recently, though for not very pleasant reason.

The Murdoch-owned STAR television channel reported email leakages that led to the controversy involving former cricket baron Lalit Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj involving the IPL’s T20, and its $975-million broadcast commercial rights to the Murdoch-owned, ESPN Star sports.

Murdoch’s business practices and journalistic ethics have rarely been above board, though his versatility in the news business has never been in doubt. While his media enterprises have touched and expanded to almost every nook and corner of the globe, and he has undoubtedly earned loads of money everywhere, he has hardly won a solid amount of reverence or spontaneous respect or sincere praise from his audiences, readers or clients.

How the enterprises will fare managerially, journalistically and financially in the coming crucial years, only time will tell.