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Holy Hemiola! Rupert Murdoch practically owned the British media

He's an American. How embarrassing.

This is insane.

The latest person to resign under fire in connection with the News of the World phone hacking scandal  was the head of the Metropolitan Police.  That would have been like Rudy Giuliani’s chief of police, Bernard Kerik, who was snogging some tart in the free digs near the World Trade Center.  Sir Paul Stephenson (well, there goes that courtesy title) was the recipient of a rather posh spa vacation after he hired a News International guy as a PR adviser.

But what really shocks me is the number of high profile newspapers Murdoch’s organization owned.  Check out this graphic for the web of connections.  He also had a significant but not controlling interest in British Sky Broadcasting, the media company he was on the verge of acquiring full out when the scandal broke. I’m amazed that any other news organization was able to function with News Corp slouching around the UK like some gigantic cave troll with a mace.

(BTW, Brits, you are going to have to come up with a catchy word and stick “-gate” on the end of it if you want this scandal to be memorable.  Hacking-gate?  I dunno.  Work on it.)

Well, this explains a lot.  Britain is also undergoing what seems to be an unnecessary economic contraction brought on by some severe austerity measures.  Paul Krugman has had several posts on the subject.  England is also laying off a large number of R&D professionals. (pfizer in 2011, others in 2010)   I don’t know what kind of protections labor has in Britain these days but it doesn’t look as strong as it does in France and Germany.  It seems to be a theme in countries where Murdoch’s organization has a lot of pull.  England is notorious for being crazy about child abductions.  Neighbors can’t even babysit for each other without a permit and a background check.  It was the first company to jump into war with us in Afghanistan and Iraq.  And it seems to be doing its best to erase Keynesian economics from our collective memory during the latest recession/depression.

It looks like politicians and other officials have been living in fear of exposure for some time now.  They don’t dare take Murdoch on.  He’s got the goods on anyone who starts to make trouble.

Hmmm, why does that sound so familiar?  This editorial by Jackie Ashley in The Guardian could have been written over here with a few choice substitutions:

This is not – and should never be seen as – a “Westminster village” issue. A wide range of ownership will mean a wider range of ideas being taken seriously in the national media, a better conversation. It will end a form of politics in which a tiny cluster of top politicians and media people (and police, and business leaders) “count” and most MPs are irrelevant followers. We should get better decisions on tax, welfare, immigration and the bread-and-butter issues.

For those who don’t know, or haven’t believed in, the tradition of tight, anti-democratic collusion in this country, all I can say is that it has been visible, close-up, since I started reporting politics in the 1980s. There were always in-groups, small parties and dinners for proprietors, cabinet ministers and perhaps the odd political editor, which the rest of us heard about but never got near. Up to a point it has always gone on. Churchill and Beaverbrook, Labour and Maxwell.

Yet it has worsened. Margaret Thatcher was greatly helped by the support of the Murdoch papers, who behaved disgracefully towards Neil Kinnock. But Murdoch and Thatcher were instinctive ideological soulmates and it was clear who was the senior partner. The idea of Thatcher paying court to Murdoch was absurd. It was the other way around.

The rot set in with John Major’s hapless attempts to stay in favour with Murdoch and Tony Blair’s shameless political flirting to win him over. Ideology was no longer relevant. Blair’s team regarded Murdoch’s support with an almost mystical awe. That’s when Murdoch’s summer parties became the most desired places to be seen.

Cameron merely picked up the strategy and pushed it further. It seemed risk-free. He comes from the world of PR and personal contacts, high-fiving Matthew Freud, hugging Rebekah and bringing Coulson into his inner office too. Who was in whose pocket?

We have been sleepwalking into a Berlusconied Britain, a post-democratic state of winks and nods. Suddenly there is a chance to break the spell. It won’t last for ever, and it needs brave, decisive action by MPs. A stronger democracy – whose authority comes from election, not from money? Too much to hope for. But actually, today, it isn’t.

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