Po-faced and pie-faced, what next for Murdoch?
So much for the schadenfreudegasm.
Last night’s grilling of Rupert and James Murdoch by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee was rather more like a ‘rose ceremony’ in an episode of The Bachelor: slow and excruciating, but compulsive viewing nonetheless.
The entire event was full of tension and politeness in equal measure, and James Murdoch’s long-winded non-response to the first question was more heavily scripted than the episode of Winners and Losers which aired earlier in the evening.
When interviewed after the hearing, MP Louise Mensch said Rupert came across to the committee members as much more composed and confident than his son. That may be so, but I think he looked and acted his ripe age for the first time (perhaps ever), and I can’t imagine the over-long pauses before most of his responses gave an overwhelming impression of firm confidence to many of the viewers at home.
So, I am quite sure that Rupert was sincere when he started off by proclaiming “this the most humble day of my life”. In fact, I felt a tinge of pity for the man.
When Jim Sheridan started his line of questioning towards Murdoch Sr., I actually wasn’t sure whether he was trying to ask him about News Corporation’s oversight of NotW criminality, or fishing for something that would make them snigger like teenagers once the cameras had been packed up and the gallery had gone home.
I half suspected “You were asked to go in the back door of Number 10?” would be followed with “So, Mr Cameron told you that he likes people using his back door from time to time?”, or “What about number 2?”
Quite seriously though, I think that those who bothered to stay up and watch it live last night bore witness to a pretty amazing event.
Something that just a fortnight ago I thought I would never see: Rupert Murdoch and one of his very privileged offspring getting hauled before a parliamentary committee to answer some very tough questions, and being forced to give some pretty tough answers.
The most significant part of that last sentence, however, relates not to the world’s most powerful media mogul, but to the MPs who were doing the questioning.
Ordinarily, they would have been too afraid to ask the tough questions, knowing full well there was an invisible Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. But, the leaves have now turned.
The politicians, now liberated for the most part from their old fears, are showing a real willingness to stand up to the powerful people who held sway over them for so long.
That perceived editorial bias at some newspapers is now being addressed openly by senior members of the Australian government suggests that renewed sense of power may be starting to trickle down to the underside of the globe as well.
UK Opposition Leader Ed Miliband reportedly held what is now privately referred to as the “sod it” meeting with senior Labour Party advisors a couple of weeks ago, where they finally decided to go for the jugular, and fully jump on News International (and David Cameron’s relationship to its senior executives) without fear.
With public opinion well and truly on his side, his strategy of ruthless attack against the Murdoch press over recent days has worked out mighty well, and, in the words of one UK commentator, has seen him go “from zero to hero in a fortnight”.
Something pretty big is going on, it seems. A veritable earthquake has struck the powerful media-political complex, and it’s still shaking like crazy.
I agree with many others that the last thing we need is some new regulatory system to oversee our media industry, because even without any government intervention, the way that power operates may never be the same again.
With the various investigations and subsequent criminal proceedings likely to continue on for months or even years yet, this saga doesn’t appear to be anywhere near done yet. It is starting to feel very Watergate-esque.
When the dust does finally settle, I genuinely think that, like Watergate, the long-standing balance of power will have permanently shifted.
So, what will that ‘post-hackgate’ world look like?
Well, I think (or at least I hope) that a fresh sense of accountability will pervade newsrooms and boardrooms of media companies across the globe, and no media outlet will ever again think that it is above the law.
If, as Paul McMullen claims, journalists occasionally need to step into legal grey areas in order to do their job properly, then it ought to only happen when it is genuinely “in the public interest”. Not just, as Steve Coogan pointed out to him, for the sake of selling some more papers.
I hope that news editors and producers will take a step back, and realise it is not their duty to manipulate public opinion or deliberately stir up fear and anger. If this whole saga tells us nothing else, it is that there are real consequences when a position of great privilege is abused.
And, finally, I hope that we’ll all be a little more discerning when it comes to handing out roses… there are some out there in the media who deserve to go home empty handed.
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