Murdoch inquiry: the murky side of media highlighted

27 Apr,2012

By Ranjona Banerji


The questioning of Rupert and James Murdoch in the Leveson inquiry into media ethics in the UK was undoubtedly the highlight of this news week. Both the BBC and CNN showed major portions of the inquiry live and it was fascinating to watch these two very powerful men being closely questioned on their closeness to British politicians as well as on the way they ran their business.


James Murdoch followed the line he had had at the earlier Parliamentary inquiry after the phone-hacking scandal broke which led to the closure of The News of The World: he remembered nothing. This is, even though he had been the recipient of a chain of emails which explained what was going on. Murdoch the younger claimed he had not read any of the emails.


Two days were devoted to Rupert Murdoch who seemed far sharper than he had been during the Parliamentary inquiry. However, he also claimed to remember nothing, in spite of there being sufficient documentary evidence to prove his various meetings with various British prime ministers. Murdoch claimed that politicians always wanted to meet editors and proprietors but that did not mean that he wielded any influence.


However, by the end of the second day of questioning, Murdoch admitted that there had been a cover-up of the practice of phone-hacking in his newspapers, which went at least up to the editor and beyond. He apologised and called it a failure.


The venerable and respected Harold Evans, the one editor of the Times who Murdoch sacked, was scathing in his criticism of Murdoch’s testimony and his supposed inability to remember anything significant at all, in his piece in the Guardian on Thursday.


In the backdrop of this questioning were the revelations that a close aide of British culture secretary Jeremy Hunt had been leaking secret information to the Murdoch organisations about the BSkyB deal, which has since been scuttled. But with both sides of the political spectrum in Britain being in the pockets of the Murdochs, finger-pointing is going to be a little difficult. In Prime Minister David Cameron’s favour is the fact that he commissioned this judicial inquiry.


The parallels with India are fascinating, if at the least because media tycoons here remain shady figures, lurking in the background, pulling strings and manipulating policies. Also, despicable as phone-hacking was, it is hard to remember the last time any newspaper really spent any effort on news-gathering. We, in India, follow the other Murdoch model – use PR agencies to get everything done.


Needless to say, Indian TV was not much taken with the Murdoch case, although newspapers gave it the mandatory space on their international pages.


* * *


The one story which got almost no space in the Indian media, in spite of the verdict being shown live on the BBC and CNN on Thursday, competing with Murdoch, was the trial of Charles Taylor. The former Liberian president was charged with war crimes for his role in the brutal and bloody war for power in the neighbouring Sierra Leone. Although the film Blood Diamonds got considerable media attention in India, the man who was part of that horror story, was obviously not worthy of too much space. For example, The Times of India had nothing, the Hindustan Times, a brief and The Indian Express a story on the international pages.


* * *


Instead the Indian media had absolute hysterics about Sachin Tendulkar accepting a nomination to the Rajya Sabha. One would imagine this was the first time anyone had ever accepted a Rajya Sabha nomination (12 distinguished persons are appointed every term) for all the hot air expended on TV. Newspapers also saw this as headline news.


So far of course no one knows whether Tendulkar will be a good, bad or indifferent Parliamentarian. Therefore, tedious before-the-fact discussions and camera-inspired rage are pointless. Much time was spent on why Tendulkar was joining politics. It occurred to no one that being nominated to the Rajya Sabha is not “joining politics”. That would be when Tendulkar fights an election. Many nominated members gone back to their distinguished lives after their terms finished.


The only benefit of such discussions is that you see just how stupid some people are.


* * *

Sometimes I find myself in full agreement with Press Council chairman Markandey Katju that 90 per cent of Indians are fools. And most of those fools find their way to TV studios.


Post a Comment 

Comments are closed.

Today's Top Stories