Bruce Page’s Murdoch Archipelago reveals the murky business of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and his worldwide media monopoly where establishment collaboration disguised under the banner of media freedom threatens the democratic process.
The book is an important reminder of the dangers of media concentration – the 2003 Iraq war was the latest manifestation of how Murdoch’s empire could be synchronised across several continents in promoting Bush and Blair’s imperialist project.
Murdoch inherited his father’s Australian News Limited newspapers although he ‘didn’t meet the requirements for the bottom grade of editorial responsibility’. While lacking journalistic skills, Murdoch was adept early on at cultivating important political links – giving Jack McEwan, the Australian deputy prime minister, favourable coverage during the federal elections of 1963. The support enabled Murdoch to buy the News of the World in exchange for a bottle of whisky – convincing McEwan to let Murdoch get his hands on a large amount of Australian dollars and take them overseas.
The commercial centre of News International was firmly established in Britain by the early 1970s with the acquisition of the Times, the Sunday Times and the Sun as Murdoch’s new flagship promoting his journalistic ideal: ‘entertainment before news’. The relationship developing between Murdoch and Margaret Thatcher helped the prime minister get government policies across through a customised media apparatus and secured success for Murdoch’s corporate enterprise.
Thatcher gave unequivocal support for the sacking of 5,000 print workers at Wapping and advocated loudly her belief that News International’s aim was to ‘free the British press from union dictatorship’. She also gave Murdoch the opportunity to create British Sky Broadcasting just five days before the Independent Television Commission was to take control over satellite licensing – enabling Murdoch to limit rival platform access.
Page uses Max Weber’s ‘theory of ideal types’ when analysing Murdoch’s close knit relationship with the political establishment, explaining how newspaper ethics should prioritise independence, flexibility and confrontation with governing powers. Murdoch’s press is made up of pseudo-newspapers which are produced in the reverse sequence to the ideal type – furthering elite domination. ‘Newscorp is about eroding the boundaries between the state power and media operations, meanwhile cloaking this process in fantasies which feed back into and distort its journalism.’
Murdoch claims to know what people need and demands to serve those needs without interference – although the mogul’s media philosophy is a peculiar one: scorning broadsheets for being dull and fake while his own papers are produced to enlighten ‘the ordinary people’ with celebrity gossip and soft porn.
Page argues there would scarcely be any need to worry about the effect of tabloids ‘except that our own elected leaders revolve with them in a dance of folly which has at least the potential to be a dance of death for democracy’. Upon importing his tabloid techniques to the US and buying the New York Post, Murdoch declared the paper would not be run for profit but ‘to make the world a better place’ while promoting an intensely Reaganite editorial policy.
Murdoch was given presidential consent to buy the Fox Network because the takeover would further deregulation, and by the 1980s his corporation was thus involved in three systems of anglophone national politics. Although Murdoch took on US citizenship in order to purchase Fox, he kept playing at News Corporation’s foreign status to escape corporate taxation – maximising revenues by only paying 6 percent tax instead of the usual 35 percent between 1995 and 1999.
Despite Page’s analysis being hard to follow at times as he draws upon a vast array of philosophers and theorists – Plato, Sophocles, John Bunyan, Isaac Newton, Machiavelli, Solzhenitsyn – to support his case, the book is a valuable fact resource and should be read by anyone who wants to discover how Murdoch’s corporate influence tampers with democracy.
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