Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Murdoch Scandal Jumps the Pond

The media scandal that's snared Rupert Murdoch and other News Corporation executives in Great Britain has crossed the Atlantic, and could cause more homegrown trouble for the U.S.-based media company.

In the past 48 hours, Democratic Sens. Jay Rockefeller, Frank Lautenberg, Barbara Boxer and Robert Menendez have called for an investigation of News Corp., saying that the behavior of Murdoch's executives and staff in England raises serious questions about the legality of the conduct of the company under U.S. law.

And the calls haven't been exclusively partisan. On Wednesday, Republican Rep. Peter King said the allegations of News Corp phone hacking were "disgraceful" and warranted an FBI investigation.

Already a range of groups including Free Press, Public Campaign, ThinkProgress, CREDO Action and Media Matters for America has collected signatures from 100,000 Americans demanding an investigation. is organizing a sizable protest to occur outside Murdoch's Manhattan townhouse on Thursday.

New Allegations to Come

It's clear from reports in the media that more allegations are going to surface, and that they'll not be limited to crimes committed in the United Kingdom.

Reporters at the Murdoch-owned news properties allegedly hacked the phone messages of more than 4,000 people, including the voicemail of a 13-year-old murder victim Milly Dowler, which set off a furious public backlash in Britain. But News of the World journalists were based in the United States during the time the paper allegedly hacked into people's phone records.

We already know that some reportedly tried to pay a New York City police officer to hack into the phone messages of the American families and victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

We also know that News Corp., as an American company, is accountable to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which states that U.S. companies can be prosecuted for crimes committed abroad. (Part of the investigation unfolding in the UK involves $160,000 in bribes allegedly paid to police by Murdoch executives to stifle an investigation of the phone hacking).

On Tuesday, former New York State Governor and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer wrote that the Justice Department has been very actively prosecuting FCPA violations in recent years. "The News Corp. case presents a pretty simple test for Attorney General Eric Holder," Spitzer wrote. "If the department fails to open an immediate investigation into News Corp.'s violations of the FCPA, there will have been a major breach of enforcement at Justice."

Murdoch Not Above the Law

Murdoch has amassed a worldwide media empire, which in America includes Fox News Channel, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post, and hundreds of local broadcast stations and cable channels.

For too long, Murdoch has leveraged his enormous media power to get what he wants from leaders in Washington and London, and to insulate himself and his company from official scrutiny.

This is exactly the problem that media reformers have been warning about for years. When one company amasses too much control over a nation's public discourse, democracy suffers.

It seems clear now that Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp. colleagues believed that their tremendous media power placed them above the law.

But fortunes are turning, and Rupert Murdoch must now answer for all that has happened under his watch. If he or his executives broke the law, they need to be held accountable in the United States.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The 140 newspapers in the News Corp network share a single production platform where leads, new and finished stories are edited and moved around the world in realtime.

The editorial process is global. For purposes of beating the competition to a scoop, unified messaging "being on message" as New Labor put it, and for commercial synergy.

The real problem for news is that the benefits of this global production platform for newspapers is now a liability.

All the newspapers in the 140 paper network have shared in the editorial process and the contagion of criminal content of the toxic tabloids could spread.

Even though The Times of London and The News of the World dont talk face to face, they share the same building and the same production facility. They also share senior editors and executives, support staff etc. The platform is shared.

To a very large extent the mastheads are just a branding and the staff, content and so on move between newspapers (globally) all the time.

Due to cross-media, tabloid print journalism often is re-purposed or expanded for TV i.e. BSkyB (UK), Sky (AUS, UK), Foxtel (AUS) and Fox (US)

The fact that News International (which is The Times, The Sun, The News of The World) was a major node in establishing this global news production system means that like the financial markets the contagion is automatically spread.

The benefits from a global, integrated, realtime production system are now its greatest liability.

Hacking 4000+ victims is not journalism. Its organized crime. Its media as protection racket.

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