There are many reasons the scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. has riveted public attention around the world. It's a story that features all of the classic elements: crimes, betrayal, abuse of power and even a cover-up.
But beneath Murdoch's public meltdown lies a bigger problem, and it’s not confined to England, where News Corp. stands accused of hacking phones and computers and bribing and misleading investigators. It’s a problem that plagues all consolidated news organizations that reach a certain scale, but especially News Corp. It’s about what happens when media corporations get too cozy with power — and government officials fail to challenge them.
More than any of the current crop of media moguls, Murdoch accrues political influence through his aggressive manipulation of News Corp.'s many media outlets. It's not just in the way Murdoch’s media properties cover the news but how they use this coverage to give him favorable access to elected officials to promote News Corp.’s agenda.
The company uses its media power to shape corporate-friendly policies and quash those that don’t further its aims. News Corp. also helps elect politicians with timely endorsements while punishing foes who get in its way with negative coverage and political threats.
This relentless pursuit of power has worked in the United States, where neither the Federal Communications Commission nor Congress has mustered the courage to challenge runaway media consolidation or call Murdoch to account. Free Press has asked the FCC to assess the company’s fitness to continue holding 27 television broadcast licenses in light of the widening scandal, and continues to urge Congress to conduct hearings into the allegations of News Corp.’s “rampant law breaking.”
Earlier this year, in response to a call from Free Press and allied organizations, the Justice Department launched a probe of News Corp. It’s time for Congress and the FCC to step forward as well.