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Why did Murdoch obsess on Press?
The bean-counters fail to realize that it is the power of press which gained Murdoch such unprecedented, undetected and disproportionate influence on governments ? to skate over cross-media ownership and fair competition legislation ? away from public scrutiny. He applied that formula with stealth in Australia, UK and the USA to build News Corporation over four decades. He is at his best in closed rooms to parley power and seal deals. When David Cameron took office at 10 Downing Street, Mr Murdoch was asked to come incognito through the back door. Neither man thought that untoward for the shadowy agenda they needed to brainstorm. The biggest coup of all Murdoch was about to deliver his biggest coup of all - full control of BSkyB, the most profitable cash-cow News Corporation did not fully own, the same month in which, awkwardly, the News of the World (NoW) became the enemy of the people. It was shut down with indecent haste by James Murdoch. The shock disclosure in early July by The Guardian, of the hacking into murdered 13-year old Millie Dowler's voicemails outraged the British working class and awoke Parliament, forcing the Prime Minister to urge News Corp to dock its bid for BSkyB. Jeremy Hunt the Secretary for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport had already given 'provisional approval' in March and was poised to sign-off on the BSkyB deal after clearance by Ofcom, the communications regulator: "We make sure that people in the UK get the best from their communications services and are protected from scams and sharp practices, while ensuring that competition can thrive." It was Ofcom?s mandate to assess if media plurality would be compromised and whether News Corp was a 'fit and proper' entity to hold a TV broadcasting license. Even as the Murdochs were summoned to the Parliamentary Committee hearing, Mr Hunt was declaring that the News of the World probe is a separate matter which will "have no bearing" on his decision. Murdoch was that close before all hell broke. News Corp owns 39% of BSkyB. Murdoch offered US$12.6 billion for the 61% it did not own. Compared to the 37% revenue growth at News Corp?s other properties 2006-2010, BSkyB revenues surged 54%. In the last three current quarters alone, BSkyB gushed US$1 billion in cash-flow. In 2010 the 39% of BSkyB contributed US$354 million or 14% of News Corp?s US$2.5 billion net income. If News Corp had fully acquired BSkyB, Enders Analysis (a research service on media, entertainment & telco industries in Europe) estimates it would have accounted for 25% of annual revenues and near 30% of operating income. That was the significance of the grand prize Murdoch was stalking. Gut the BBC too while lobbying for full control of BSkyB Rupert could persuade the Prime Minister to allow him to skate smoothly over the maze of cross-media ownership regulations and fair-competition criteria. He was already dominant in newspapers and pay-TV. While at it, he also waged a nasty, noisy campaign to have the BBC neutered from commercial competition. It helped that Fox News? rabid right wing spin gelled with the Conservatives? distaste for the ?Marxists and left-liberals? they believed the BBC harboured. David Cameron wasted no time cutting the public broadcaster down to size. At a press conference 29 Oct 2010 in Brussels, David Cameron relished the ?delicious? prospect of budget cuts at the BBC: "deliciously, the BBC in another negotiation, agreed a license fee freeze for six years." Reporting on that press conference, The Telegraph observed: "from Mr Cameron's expression and manner it is fair to suggest that he takes a certain pleasure in both the BBC's financial discomfort and in taunting its staff about it." Ongoing investigations into the NoW scandal reveal that, apart from the PM himself, senior cabinet members of the Conservative government met with News International executives on average '"every three days" since the May 2010 General Election. George Osborne (Chancellor) and Michael Gove (Education Secretary) had each logged more than 12 meetings. That is a measure of the clout Mr Murdoch swung in the corridors of power. Until the revelation of hacking into Millie Dowler's voicemails, all the other routine tabloid privacy abuses did not provoke mass resentment. The targets of the hacking were mostly businessmen, politicians, footballers and celebrities. The working class had little concern for them. Being confined below the decks of wealth and ostentation, they took delight in seeing the rich and famous shamed and tossed overboard. Murdoch tabloid press fed the working class craving for vicarious revenge better than his rivals. The Millie Dowler case was the misjudged NoW over-reach that Mr Murdoch will regret forever. That may have forced him to finally ditch Rebekah Brooks. 'Dirty Files' compromised politicians, police & law enforcement Unlike other sleaze publishers, Murdoch went one step further. His hackers dug the dirt on key politicians and police chiefs, not always to be published but to selectively confront the victims to compel co-operation. Politicians of all stripes were terrorized, law enforcement agencies de-fanged and co-opted into the NoW scheme. News International was generous with cash for street cops, arranged highly paid 'editorial columns' for ex-police officers, plush PR jobs for ex-journalists at the Met, the PM's communications czar role for an "outed" editor and invitations to society events for judges. It was a jolly circus of swagmen with Rupert as ringmaster. The corrupt web News International was able to weave between editors, police and politicians made a mockery of much vaunted and trusted British public institutions. Murdoch is not the first power broker to use 'dirty files' on people perceived to be threats or who could be 'turned'. Both Lee Kuan Yew and Dr Mahathir in their day were ruthless and unabashed master practitioners of this grim trade. Murdoch deployed slimy private detectives to the same effect, except he did not moralize about it. It was just business. In a sense Murdoch was even more dangerous because he was unelected and invisible in the best traditions of La Cosa Nostra. British politicians no longer fear Murdoch. What next for News Corp? The unwinding NoW scandal has already cost News Corp its BSkyB bid for full control (which triggered a US$63 million 'breakup fee' to BSkyB), closure of the 168 year old tabloid, resignation of two senior executives and arrest of 12 other people. Mr Murdoch?s News Corp board of mates did not embarrass him about the corporate shambles and international opprobrium at their 9th August meeting at Fox Studios. Indeed he declared the board wanted him to continue as chairman and CEO. However Rupert endorsed Chase Carey as his able deputy to take over ("If I went under a bus") without making a play for James to be advanced. He did not elevate his daughter Elisabeth to a board seat. These are major concessions for a proud family man used to getting what he wants, regardless. It is a sad turning point for the king who ruled a US$60 billion public company for four decades like a family fiefdom. His British tabloids have been discredited and are not much use for political leverage anymore. As a business they are insignificant within the News Corp canvas. Some shareholders are calling for divestment and exit from the newspaper sector. As a backroom political manipulator Rupert is finished after the humiliating public inquiry in London. Without that magic power over politicians, there is no need for News Corp shareholders to indulge its 80-year old chairman or his children. Calls for proper corporate governance will nudge him to let go several of his cronies posing as 'independent' directors. (News Corp satisfies all regulatory requirements for independent director appointments on paper). There is mounting pressure to correct the dual class share mechanism which allows the 12% family shareholding to leverage 40% voting power. Chances are high that News Corp will eventually disintegrate into separate businesses by region and sector after Rupert. Will his children succeed him? Till a month ago that would not even be a question. Post the NoW mess, activist shareholders are pushing for competent professional management and strict integrity in business practices. What about the numerous ongoing investigations into NoW? At last count, no less than fifteen separate probes are underway between the Met, Parliamentary committees and other regulatory bodies. There will be much public theatre, pontification and preening by parliamentarians. Some minions will take a fall to satisfy the public mood for punitive justice. Rupert is practiced at buying silence. He is unlikely to see the inside of a jail. That is not the way the British establishment deals with its white-collar deviants. ENDS CP/12-08-2011