MediaFile

Power corrupted the Murdoch empire’s journalism

By John Lloyd
The opinions expressed are his own.

There’s an old saying, which Scots still exchange with each other, usually humorously: “Aweel, ye ken noo” – well, you know now. It harks back to when Scots life was dominated by the stern Presbyterianism engrained into it by Calvin’s disciple, John Knox: when direct, personal accountability to God was at the center of the faith, and the Church of Scotland, the “Kirk,” policed the morals of society with enthusiastic rigor. “Well ye ken noo” was the generic cry of the godly to the un-godly, faced with the prospect of the fires of hell, having ignored the warnings of the faithful in a life of dissipation.

Well, we ken noo.

We are everyone, but above all we of the British journalistic persuasion. We learn every day a little more about the practices carried on in the name of journalism by some of our colleagues in News International — a trail of abuse that started with hacking the mobile phones of the royal princes, spread to celebrities, to politicians and their aides — and in the last two weeks to murder and terrorist victims and their families and to the sick child of a former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown — whose bank and tax records were, also invaded (News International has disputed Brown’s charges). We learn all this — and today will bring more — but we learn a large lesson as we do.

We learn that there is a difference between knowing, and “knowing.”

For example, we “knew” — or those of us interested in these things “knew” — that Saudi Arabia hated and feared Iran. We knew they did when a Wikileaks-leaked cable of April 2008 described a meeting between General David Petraeus, then the senior military commander in the Middle East, with King Abdullah — at which the King urged U.S. military action against Iran, while the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., Adel al-Jubeir, spelled it out – “he told you to cut off the head of the snake.”

A friend told me recently that, as a young woman in the seventies, she “knew” she faced some hidden, some overt and even some illegal discrimination against her because of her sex. But the full extent of the sexism only became clear to her when radicals in the feminist movement and the trade unions, made an account of these discriminations and began to campaign against them — and in doing so, changed much of the world for her and later generations of women (and men: we had to get it, too).

Similarly, we in journalism here “knew” that policemen were bribed — I saw it happen in a minor way, once, and though shocked, I said nothing, did nothing — and we “knew” that the tabloids played it rough and got information in devious ways and had few if any inhibitions about invasions of private life. But now we know — we see the full extent. Some — the Guardian carries much of the credit — made a full account. We’ve been forced to really know and contend with what thought we already “knew” about the nature of tabloid journalism.

Advisory: David Cay Johnston column on Rupert Murdoch is withdrawn

Please be advised that the David Cay Johnston column published on Tuesday stating that Rupert Murdoch’s U.S.-based News Corp made money on income taxes is wrong and has been withdrawn. News Corp’s filings show the company changed reporting conventions in its 2007 annual report when it reversed the way it showed positive and negative numbers. A new column correcting and explaining the error in more detail will be issued shortly.

Arthur Andersen. Anthony Weiner. News Corp?

Arthur Andersen. Anthony Weiner. News Corp?

Sure, it’s too early to “go there.” News Corp is an immense, diversified multi-national media conglomerate that has been widely reviled by many for more than a generation. For all of his detractors there are plenty of readers, viewers and shareholders who are just fine with Rupert Murdoch’s tabloidization and opinionization of the news business.

The New York Post may chronically lose money but such things are hardly news in the newspaper business. Yet the Post is a metaphor for the Murdoch empire. When Rupert amped up the sleepy New York tabloid to take on the New York Daily News, he started a media revolution with the newspaper that had been founded by Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.

It all seems so quaint now, with cable news talk show hosts having no qualm about taking sides in the style set by Fox News, and with newspapers still struggling to re-establish their relevance as a medium.

Can politicians finally escape Murdoch’s grasp?

By Bruce Page
The views expressed are his own.

The News of the World was a survivor, increasingly moribund, from dark, forgotten passages in British social history.

Likewise, the Murdoch family is a political throwback — but thus far their wealth and their influence have escaped the lethal damage the News of the World did to itself. Though much diminished, the Murdochs might yet restore their peculiar system — in which media boss and political syndicate practice mutual exploitation, to the visible decay of effective democracy.

A similar symbiosis threatened when Thomas Jefferson worried that decent government could not exist without decent newspapers. But the threat generally retreated between Jefferson’s time and the last third of the 20th century. It was then, in 1969, that Rupert Murdoch, new proprietor of the News of the World, set about his life’s work: revitalizing that special relationship, along lines pioneered by his father, Keith, as a journalist in the Great War, government propaganda minister during World War II and newspaper owner in Australia.

News of the World hacking scandal: UK’s Miliband speaks out

UK opposition leader Ed Miliband called on the British media to clean up its image and emphasized the need for a speedy public inquiry into the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. Watch clips of Miliband’s comments at a Thomson Reuters Newsmaker event below:

Miliband to British media: “Clean up your image”

Miliband calls for judge-led inquiry into phone-hacking scandal

Miliband wants media watchdog scrapped

Miliband calls for BSkyB referral

Miliband urges UK Prime Minister David Cameron to apologize

Follow our live coverage of the phone-hacking scandal below:

Is Murdoch free to destroy tabloid’s records?

Editor’s note:

After this post was published, News Corp indicated that it did not plan any liquidation of assets in connection with the shutdown of the News of the World newspaper.  In the absence of a liquidation, the scenario laid out by Mark Stephens does not apply.

By Alison Frankel
The views expressed are her own.

Here’s some News of the World news to spin the heads of American lawyers. According to British media law star Mark Stephens of Finers Stephens Innocent (whom The Times of London has dubbed “Mr Media”), Rupert Murdoch’s soon-to-be shuttered tabloid may not be obliged to retain documents that could be relevant to civil and criminal claims against the newspaper—even in cases that are already underway. That could mean that dozens of sports, media, and political celebrities who claim News of the World hacked into their telephone accounts won’t be able to find out exactly what the tabloid knew and how it got the information.

If News of the World is to be liquidated, Stephens told Reuters, it “is a stroke of genius—perhaps evil genius.”

Closing a tabloid won’t stop the cheating culture

By David Callahan
The views expressed are his own.

The demise of the News of the World after a phone hacking scandal will not change a troubling truth about tabloid journalism – or business in general these days: Bad ethics can yield big financial rewards and such are the upsides of cheating that even honest professionals may feel they must bend the rules to compete.

Tabloid editors will surely think twice now before drawing on illegally obtained information. But other unethical practices – used by a range of print, broadcast, and online media businesses – will continue, like paying sources for dubious information (“cash for trash”) or fabricating juicy stories outright to boost circulation or ratings.

This sleaze machine is fueled not by the deviance of editors and producers but by rational incentives. The media business is brutal, with intense competition, impatient shareholders, and often razor-thin profit margins. Everyone in this world is under extreme pressure to perform and cutting ethical corners is one way to get an edge. The News of the World became Britain’s highest-circulation newspaper in large part by being less scrupulous than the competition. Cheating paid – at least until this week.

Tech wrap: Facebook zooms into video age

Starting today, Facebook users will have the option of holding one-on-one video calls with their friends directly from their account on the social network. The new Skype-powered video service marks a renewed effort by Facebook to cement itself as the go-to communications hub on the Web and serves as a response to Google’s recently launched Hangouts app, a similar video chatting feature that lets users on its Google+ social network chat with up to 10 people at once.

Facebook’s video chat will be embedded directly into the site’s messaging platform and won’t require users to sign up for Skype separately to use it. Skype stands to see a big boost from the partnership seeing as it could open it up to a whole new set of users.  So how does Facebook’s video chat compare to Google’s? TechCrunch finds there’s little overlap at this point between the two services, arguing the former is well-designed for one-on-one pow-wows whereas the latter is better suited to group chats. In addition, Facebook unveiled a new group-messaging feature that lets users take part in text chats with multiple friends.

Remember that man who was accused early this year of hacking into AT&T’s servers and stealing personal data from 120,000 Apple iPad customers? Well, he was indicted on Wednesday by a Newark, New Jersey grand jury with one count of conspiracy to gain unauthorized access to computers and one count of identity theft. The charges come two weeks after a co-defendant in the case pleaded guilty.

Tencent, De Wolfe among interested buyers for Myspace

De Wolfe and Murdoch in happier times (Photo: Reuters)

De Wolfe and Murdoch in happier times (Photo: Reuters)

Chinese Internet holding company Tencent, Myspace founder Chris De Wolfe and Myspace’s current management team are among the 20 odd names kicking the tires at the once might social network to see whether it’s worth buying outright or partnering in some sort of spin-out with current owner News Corp.

Tencent has previously said it is interested in possible US acquisitions.

The names come up in Reuters’ Special Report on ‘How News Corp got lost in Myspace‘,  a behind the scenes tale on how the focused Facebook beat the partying Myspace. (We have the story in a handy PDF format here)

In the story, we highlight some of the key problems Myspace faced,  some well-known and some not often mentioned:

Today In Music: MySpace’s entertainment focus to lead to job cuts. Tomorrow perhaps?

We’d previously heard that MySpace is on course to cut jobs soon and AllThingsD today put that number at around 550 to 600 jobs and promises the announcement will be coming tomorrow.

The way one person familiar with the company’s thinking puts it, MySpace will be restructuring to realign its staff better with its new focus as a social entertainment site targeting Generation Y. It would also give it an opportunity to resolve various legacy issues.  Being a social entertainment site would probably be an easier path than as a social networking site on a hiding to nothing versus the all mighty Facebook but there are probably still questions about how it will make its money beyond advertising. MySpace despite its troubles still remains a key venue for promoting established bands and thousands of aspiring musicians.

The other story from AllThingsD is that News Corp, as we’ve reported,  is also being considered for sale but ATD (which is also owned by News Corp) points out that the parent company is shopping MySpace primarily to private equity buyers though Yahoo is also being considered.