A recent BBC documentary reveals the intrigue and scheming that lies at the heart of the Murdoch empire. The billionaire media mogul is the ugly face of a rotten system. We need workers’ control to break the power of the capitalist press.
Over the summer, the BBC released a three-part documentary called The rise of the Murdoch dynasty. The show’s producers surely could not have imagined that their exposé on the family divisions inside the Rupert Murdoch media empire would get such a speedy confirmation. Yet this is exactly what happened, with James Murdoch resigning from the News Corporation board only days after the final episode had aired.
Rupert’s youngest son James – once seen as the likely heir to the family firm – left citing disagreements with the ‘editorial content’ of the various media outlets under its control.
James has been presented as some sort of liberal-type, standing up to the reactionary bile that forms much of the output from the likes of The Sun and Fox News.
Yet it was not so long ago that James was speaking out against the BBC and public broadcasting, and in favour of its privatisation. Indeed, the documentary itself describes James as a ‘David Cameron’ sort of political thinker. Hardly a socialist then.
The reality is that James’ resignation represents the latest move in the ongoing manoeuvres between the various members of the Murdoch clan as to who ends up on top when Rupert finally retires – or, more likely, dies. He will hit 90 years of age next March after all.
For the last few decades, as the documentary outlines, Rupert has been playing one family member off against another – particularly his children: James, Lachlan, and Elizabeth. This is the real life version of the Succession portrayed in the hit HBO series, which draws heavily from the Murdoch family.
James clearly feels that his political future lies with the likes of Joe Biden and the rest – not with the cronies who Rupert has been consorting with. In that sense, James is his father’s son: using the media outlets under his command to gain political influence.
As the BBC documentary shows, this has been the dominant theme of Rupert Murdoch’s life: from his early days as the owner of a single Australian newspaper; to the recent period when News Corporation seemed to have no boundaries.
For British observers, Murdoch burst onto the scene in 1969, when he purchased a little-read Liberal-supporting UK newspaper called The Sun. Overnight it was turned into a lowest-common denominator tabloid, with heavy emphasis on scandals, football, and – of course – semi-nude ‘page 3’ girls. The other paper Murdoch purchased, the infamous News of the World, was already doing this.
Murdoch also set to work repositioning these papers towards supporting the Tory Party and, in particular, Thatcherism. This would be repeated with the other papers he later purchased, including the big business Times and Sunday Times. In the US, Fox News would be established as the voice of the Republican right.
Of course, the News Corp boss was flexible about repositioning himself when conditions required it. When it became clear that the Tories under John Major were doomed, for example, he switched support to the pro-capitalist Tony Blair, in order to maintain the same political influence he had enjoyed up to then.
#OTD 1997. The Sun Backs Blair. pic.twitter.com/chQNxFc80Y
— Tides of History (@labour_history) March 18, 2017
So it was at the start of the 1997 general election campaign that Murdoch told his shocked editorial staff:
“You’re getting this wrong. You’ve got this totally wrong. We are not just backing Tony Blair, but we are going to back the Labour Party and everything he does in this campaign 200%. You’ve got to get that right.”
Murdoch would be rewarded by Blair for this, and the two would enjoy a close working relationship. In the build up to the Iraq war, according to journalist Andrew Neil:
“Murdoch would call regularly, he would give him [Blair] the latest information he had gleaned from Washington and the White House. He in turn would find out what Mr Blair was about, will the Labour Party be solid?… I think it’s now been established that in the week before the land war began the Prime Minister spoke to Rupert Murdoch almost as much as he spoke to his Foreign Secretary or his Defence Secretary. That’s influence.”
Of course, once Blair and his successor Gordon Brown had outlived their usefulness, then Murdoch would return to the Tory fold. Murdoch’s relationship with Blair would subsequently go sour over claims that Blair had been too friendly with Rupert’s young wife Wendi. She got the boot; and Rupert is now married to Jerry Hall, ex-wife of Mick Jagger.
Even today, Murdoch’s minions remain in close contact with the government and Number 10. This is despite the heavy hit that Murdoch and his papers took as a result of the phone hacking scandal.
The Tories didn’t like the fact that they were tarnished by this, with former Murdoch man Andy Coulson – then operating as Downing Street’s press secretary – heavily implicated in the scandal.
Although the documentary has lots of Netflix-style exposés, the series steers clear of really outlining how Murdoch wined, dined, and fiddled his way into the offices of the great and the powerful.
The show also ignores how, in turn, politicians turned a blind-eye towards Rupert’s growing domination of the media, in return for his political support.
Unfortunately, the series over-emphasises the power of the Murdoch media, portraying it as the decisive and unstoppable force in determining the outcomes of general elections, and even the Brexit referendum.
In a typical liberal fashion, there is lots of moaning about the ‘evil’ influence of Murdoch and the ‘corruption of democracy’. But all of this forgets that Murdoch plays a necessary role for a wing of the ruling class. If Murdoch didn’t own these media outlets, someone else would fill his shoes to publish similar right-wing, reactionary content.
At the heart of the Murdoch empire we see the decayed reality of the capitalist establishment – one where power and money rule. The resignation of James Murdoch is just one part of this rotten game of chess.