The phone-hacking scandal which has engulfed Rupert Murdoch’s News International – a British subsidiary of News Corporation – has exposed shocking levels of collusion between media and politicians; but also media and police going back three decades.
Ongoing investigations by London’s Metropolitan Police have revealed at least 3,700 cases of phone hacking by journalists at the 168-year-old tabloid News of the World newspaper. To try to dampen down public outrage, Murdoch – nicknamed “The Dirty Digger” in Britain – closed the newspaper down on July 10, and flew to London to issue an apology in front of a parliamentary committee. Yet, for years, police and politicians appeared to turn a blind eye to the practice of phone-hacking, partly out of a fear of reprisals from Murdoch’s papers, and partly because they craved the good publicity to be had from cosying up to the Australian media magnate.
Jonathan Tonge, a Professor of Politics at Liverpool University, said the scale of the phone-hacking affair, as well as the scale of public anger, would transform relations in what might be described as a “triangle of collusion” between media, police and politicians.
“Politicians and the media will have to become more at arm’s length. For decades, it’s been too cosy to be healthy. You could say the tail has been wagging the dog. We’ve seen Tony Blair travelling half way around the world to curry favour with Murdoch because of a fear of his influence over political opinion. What’s been lacking is a healthy distancing. We won’t lose the relationships entirely because politicians rely on good publicity, but we will see less fawning and pleading,” he said.
Professor Tonge said Murdoch had had a direct influence on Government policy for three decades. “There are many examples, but one of the most important was when Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair was considering going into the euro and Murdoch refused to back him. They had a lot of arguments about it, and Blair decided to stay out.”
Murdoch has also had a major influence over public opinion whenever Britain has gone to war.
“There were several phone calls between Blair and Murdoch in the days leading up to the Iraq invasion,” said Professor Tonge. “Blair was reliant on Murdoch’s support to dilute ant-war sentiment. In the event, public opinion was split 50-50, but Murdoch’s backing prevented it becoming 60-40 or 70-30 against the war. When you consider Blair lost half his majority as a result of the war at the next election, you see the importance of Murdoch’s support.”
The fawning attitude of politicians towards News International began with Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s decision to allow Murdoch to take over The Times and Sunday Times in 1981 without referring it to anti-trust authorities, even though he already owned The Sun and the News of the World.
That’s only half the story;
Read the full story by David Smith, on EconomyWatch: “Dirty Digger”: Murdoch’s News of the World Phone Hacking Scandal
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