Having avoided the Notting Hill Carnival on a hot London day – by visiting the Richard Long exhibition at Tate Britain – I thought my questioning the worldview and values of James Murdoch might have lost some of its heat. (I have a theory that deserves a PhD thesis on whether the Reformation could ever have happened in southern Europe – or anywhere where people spend more time outside in the warm sun than in cold buildings where their tempers can get frayed.) And I thought a day in the sun might make me feel less cross about Murdoch. It didn’t work. I now feel even more perturbed.
The Guardian has superb coverage of the Edinburgh Television Festival. James Robinson and Maggie Brown report that Murdoch’s speech seemed to be reasonably undisturbing to many of the audience as he delivered it. There seems to be a consensus building that even if Murdoch’s remedy is mad, he is right in stating that the media systems need some serious overhauling in the new digital age. In fact, Robinson and Brown regret that Murdoch didn’t really suggest anything positive by way of better regulation, but merely fired a few bullets at regulation per se.
Well, let’s look at Murdoch’s conclusion:
Above all we must have genuine independence in news media. Genuine independence is a rare thing. No amount of governance in the form of committees, regulators, trusts or advisory bodies is truly sufficient as a guarantor of independence. In fact, they curb speech. On the contrary, independence is characterised by the absence of the apparatus of supervision and dependency. Independence of faction, industrial or political. Independence of subsidy, gift and patronage. Independence is sustained by true accountability – the accountability owed to customers. People who buy the newspapers, open the application, decide to take out the television subscription – people who deliberately and willingly choose a service which they value. And people value honest, fearless, and above all independent news coverage that challenges the consensus.
There is an inescapable conclusion that we must reach if we are to have a better society. The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.
So, there we have it. But I simply pose a few questions:
1. Does ‘independence’ really mean the same as ‘unaccountable’ or ‘irresponsible’ (in the sense of having no obligations to anyone other than those who buy your product)?
2. Will Murdoch now explain why, if ‘subsidy’ is anathema to the independence he craves, cross subsidy between the various elements of News Corporation (with the anti-competitive and ultimately destructive price-slashing tactics of News International’s UK newspapers in the 1980-90s) has been used as a tool to try to eliminate competition?
3. Since when has the Murdoch empire rewarded anyone who challenged their own ‘consensus’? Would someone look at how Sky saw off its competitors?
4. A ‘better society’ is defined in terms of finance, profitability and prizes for the ‘winners’? No mention of anything to do with truth, art, substance or humanity?
You don’t have to love the mixed economy of private and public media in Britain to loathe the amoral pragmatism of Murdoch’s empire. God forbid we should follow Murdoch Junior’s lead and end up with a media like that of the USA.