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Dark Arts, Murdoch And The Right Wing…

By Jay Baker

Jay is a British media activist who has almost ten years of experience as a professional documentarian, writer, youth worker, social justice campaigner, and social entrepreneur.

Let’s get this straight: I’m no major fan of Piers Morgan. He’s taken part in some godawful “fast food media” ventures from America’s/Britain’s Got Talent to his own ropey talk show, and yet has somehow managed to be repaid for these by taking Larry King’s hallowed position on CNN. But for a long time he was a press pariah because he was editor of (pro-Labour) The Mirror when the tabloid newspaper published photographs purporting to show British soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners. It was the one terrible lie that discredited and undermined the towering amount of genuine evidence of mistreatment of Iraqis during the illegal occupation of Iraq, with the armed forces still less likely to boycott The Mirror than Liverpudlians were The Sun after the Hillsborough disaster – no one died in this incident. Still, it took Piers Morgan a long time to shake the stain of the scandal, and there was certainly no way he would be aligned with by any political figures.

But here’s the media double-standards for you. When the (pro-Conservative) News of the World was first implicated in hacking into cellular phones for scoops, editor Andy Coulson resigned – largely as a fall guy to prevent NOTW owner and media mogul Rupert Murdoch being brought before the U.K.’s Press Complaints Commission at a time when the Federal Communications Commission in the U.S. were looking increasingly likely to deregulate the industry and allow him greater control (I’ve previously discussed FCC chairman Michael Powell – Colin’s son – claiming that the “angel of the public interest” was absent from the debate). Coulson’s consequence was being appointed communications director of the Conservative Party just in time for Murdoch to put the full force of his empire’s propaganda machine behind the Tories once more before the general election.

The phone-hacking issue has arisen again, and given that other NOTW people were jailed, a few others are pretty peeved, with Sean Hoare telling the New York Times Sunday supplement that Andy Coulson had actually encouraged him to practice the “dark arts” of journalism where the individual has to face responsibility of repercussions, but if they provide the goods, the editor will endorse it, regardless of ethics. Meanwhile, as political figures subjected to the phone hacks seem to be turning it into a money-making opportunity by settling out of court, firebrand George Galloway yet again proves a thorn in the sides of the elite and their status quo, telling his lawyers to accept no such deal, and to instead sue the newspaper (as he sued the Daily Telegraph for claiming he was against the Iraq invasion only because he was on Saddam Hussein’s payroll).

But what this really raises, once more, is the question of collusion between the powers and the press. Galloway refusing to do a deal is just the start – this blows open the fact that right-wing politicians are working with propagandists; they’re scratching each other’s backs and greasing each other’s palms.

We have to encourage a culture where the public will no longer tolerate a newspaper having a vested interest in a political party and providing propaganda for them. The fact that Andy Coulson saved Rupert Murdoch, who promoted the Tories, who hired Andy Coulson, is farcical. It’s also disgusting and sad that we have seemingly come to accept it when figures from Gordon Brown to Barack Obama feel obliged to “woo” Murdoch and court favour with his editors, despite constant claims that their printed words do not effectively persuade voters. Murdoch will, of course, continue to select editors that report with his slant while largely neglecting to report on him unfavourably…and they will promote the parties that empower his empire (as Margaret Thatcher did in the 80s, deregulating the industry for him).

In my latest book, I attempted to demonstrate the true influence of Murdoch’s wide and far-reaching, all-pervasive media empire and those like it despite the fact there is little to no empirical research on it, because most academics repeatedly dismiss the suggestion that media influences people’s political persuasion. That is now a growing discussion, and the demand for more research is increasing; my own claims that the dark arts are threatening to overwhelm the angels of public interest are part of that demand, not an obstinate stubborn self-proclaimed “axiom.” Let’s have the debate. Let’s investigate – as media people ought to. These are questions that need answering, and perhaps ironically journalism itself – still a very class-exclusive profession – is failing us.

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2 Responses

  1. bob gaffey says:

    excellent article. Agree that the media and especially newspapers influence people’s opinions. The power of murdoch can be seen by the most powerful Prlmtary. comite. trying to find a way out of looking into the hacking scandal. Tom Watson mp said they were all afraid of the murdoch’s media empire and power. bg

  2. Jay Baker says:

    Thanks for the feedback. There definitely needs to be more empirical research on the subject, but there also has to be fire causing the smoke of propagandist/politician collusion – if media had no persuasive power, why would politicians go to such efforts to court favour with them? You’re also right that Murdoch is a concern. See the “DemocracyFail” campaign for more on that.

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