A Londoner Reflects on Murdoch and Media Corruption

The recent U.K. government report on “rampant law breaking” at News Corp. was by any measure a devastating critique not so much of one man and his son, but of a power elite that has for too long considered itself beyond scrutiny or accountability. Whatever the hidden agendas and political machinations behind the report, as well as behind the various media reports on the report, it finally puts onto paper what people concerned about unchecked media power have been shouting for years.

The fact that most of the British media focused on marginal disagreements between Labour and Conservative members of the committee conducting the investigation rather than on the scathing critique that all the report's authors endorsed is not surprising. Such is the instinctive reflex of political journalism: It’s inevitably drawn to the narrative of partisan conflict over the narrative of consensus. But party squabbles are the stuff of daily political game playing. What is really new(s) about all this is the fact that rarely in British political history has there been such a united front against the perils of concentrated media power. This is the real story behind the report.

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The scandal at Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. illustrates what can happen when media power goes unchecked.

The question now is how to build on this consensus to ensure that out of crisis comes real and substantive change in the way our media are owned and operated. Now is the time to voice our visions of what a democratic and accountable media look like — a media that is reclaimed from the garden parties of media moguls and their political allies and placed back in the hands of the people they are supposed to serve.

Of course these visions will be as varied and multifaceted as the media themselves; as diverse as the 99 percent. But there is common ground and there is room for different ideas and possible solutions, so long as we are focused on treating the root causes of media corruption rather than just the symptoms of the disease.

This requires a focus on process over personality. Because for all the villainous portrayals of Rupert Murdoch and his henchmen and women, history will judge that Hackgate was the product not of one man and his imperialist ambitions, but of a system that allowed it to happen in the first place, and then allowed it to go undetected for so long. If our aim is too sharply focused on the immediate target, we risk losing sight of the real common denominator: concern over the potential for powerful interests to dominate and manipulate public conversation.

Our U.K.-based group, Media Reform, was established last August with the mission of finding new ways to support and nurture public interest journalism. We have since been working with civil society groups, campaigners and policymakers, carrying out collaborative research and holding regular public meetings. The ideas generated through our discussions are now crystallizing into a campaign that seeks to revitalize those aspects of journalism — investigative and local — that are the lifeblood of democracy. Underpinning this are policy proposals that address both the structuring and funding of news in the public interest.

On May 17, in conjunction with the Hacked Off campaign, we will bring together a host of celebrities, politicians and hacking victims in London’s Westminster Central Hall. Speakers will discuss the need for a truly democratic and accountable media. Watch the live stream at 1 p.m. EST here.

Original photo by Flickr user Monika Flueckinger.

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good