Murdochism and media

Last Updated: Mon, Jul 18, 2011 18:51 hrs

The challenge of “managing the Murdochs” (Business Standard, July 11) is less daunting than that of managing “Murdochism” — the idea that the media is not just a “fourth estate” but also a means of securing power in the pursuit of profit and securing profit in the pursuit of power, with no regard to professionalism and professional values. That is the beast that the British government and Parliament have been trying to slay this past week. Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg reportedly said the phone-hacking allegations against News of the World, a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, have led to “a major crisis in public confidence in yet another pillar of the establishment”. But is the media, much less the tabloid press, part of the “establishment”? That is the central question facing the media not just in the United Kingdom but also in democracies around the world, including India. To what extent is media part of the “establishment” and to what extent is it “anti-establishment”? Mr Clegg also bemoaned the “total collapse of decency and values in the way part of the press conduct themselves”. This takes the debate outside the narrower confines of what defines the establishment to what and who define “decency and values”.

Should the media function within the parameters of “national interest”, social values and professional ethics, or it can claim immunity from all such constraints? The Murdochians of the world would proffer the latter view, but sooner or later they would come in conflict with the establishment, society and professional values. That is what is happening in Britain today, and that is what will happen tomorrow in India if the Indian media does not correct its ways and chooses to walk down the seductive path laid out by the Murdochs and their ilk.

The leader of Britain’s Labour Party, Ed Miliband, raised further questions over the media and power when he observed, “I think that we’ve got to look at the situation whereby one person can own more than 20 per cent of the newspaper market, the Sky platform and Sky News. I think it’s unhealthy because that amount of power in one person’s hands has clearly led to abuses of power within his organisation. If you want to minimise the abuses of power then that kind of concentration of power is frankly quite dangerous.” This argument will also gain currency in India when politicians in office become irritated by the power enjoyed by media barons. Here again, if the media does not adopt its own codes of conduct and market behaviour, the government will be tempted to step in to impose regulations concerning ownership and suchlike in the name of preventing the concentration of power in the media. To the extent that all these issues have come to the surface, the crisis in Britain may have global ramifications if politicians choose to redefine the framework within which media can exercise its power and seek profits. A positive outcome could well be that this may empower professionals. But for that professionalism needs to be strengthened. That alone will reverse the tide of Murdochism in the media.

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