Peter Mukerjea: A Real Live Whodunnit?

24 Apr,2012

By Peter Mukerjea


So the tentpole industry event of last week – Goafest , is over for another year. Advertising , marketing and media industry executives will be back at their desks catching up with the backlog of work and the start of a new week. Some will still be nursing hangovers and some will be recovering from other forms of stimulation, no doubt. Judging by the numerous photos in the various picture galleries, I’m sure many new relationships will have been forged – digitally or otherwise.


Meanwhile the biggest global media business event, so far in 2012 and by all probability, in all of 2012, is about to begin this week in a court room in London. Apart from the employees of News Corporation around the world, all newspapers and media organisations here in the UK, the US, Australia, Canada and other parts of the world will be looking forward to the chart and TRP-topping opportunity of seeing several media owners take the stand this week at the Royal Courts of Justice. Not just any owners but the Barclay brothers , who own The Daily Telegraph newspaper , the junior Lebedev who owns the Evening Standard newspaper, but above all James Murdoch and his father Keith Rupert Murdoch who will be taking the stands – separately on different days this week. All of these will make for very enjoyable viewing for a lot of us, particularly those who have worked at close quarters with these people. A family affair once again.


Hours of television and on line viewing ( on Tue, April 24 / Wed, April 25 / Thu, April 26 ) will take place this week without doubt and journalists all around the world – both pro-Murdoch and anti-Murdoch will be glued to a screen of some sort and will analyse and dissect each and every word for the benefit of their readers/ viewers.


No matter what the result of the findings, public perception of all of this is going to be very interesting and insightful. I’ve asked friends who have never had anything to do with either of the Murdoch’s other than as readers of the newspapers or viewers of TV stations owned by them and their take on it is very simple. It seems they both come across as walking on extremely thin ice and that they should take responsibility for the actions of their executive and their staff, appears to be the most favoured impression so far.


The issues at hand are email hacking and phone hacking which seem to have been committed by journalists, numerous times over, sometimes ‘ in the public interest ‘ and sometimes in the interest of gaining an advantage over competitors. There’s the relationship between politicians and the media and and also the relationship between the police and the media. All of these issues are not uncommon in our own ‘ desi’ world today. Many of us reading this will have had to juxtapose our personal beliefs and interests versus those of the organisation that we work/ed for at some time in our lives. This, should then concern those in media and it’s surely a question that we should be asking ourselves, as to whether we believe this conduct is acceptable or not.


Editorial priority is a critical ingredient as is the question of proportionality and both of these should be written into the charter document of all news channel and newspapers if it isn’t so already. Who takes on the enforcement of this responsibility ? Should we believe and trust the CEOs, Editors and owners of these organisations who advocate self-regulation as the best way forward, given that they are all reasonable, just and responsible citizens. Perhaps ‘fit and proper’ too. Or, should this be the task of a Media Commission?


Do we genuinely believe that media owners should be treated differently to their executives, who run the organisation/s and who are hired hands at the end of the day? Where does the buck exactly stop? Where do investors fit in ? They want profits but very often are not keen on getting their hands dirty with integrity issues. Perhaps Rajat Gupta, who is due to go on trial for alleged insider trading and passing on tips to a friend, will have a point of view here as he’s been an investor in media companies himself and is also going on trial in a month or so.


Is there a conflict of interest if the owner is also the senior-most executive in the organisation or should that be ignored and seen as a mere coincidence? Or should they all be looked at in a similar way and therefore expect to have the same respect for the concept of law and order and governance?


Either way, the next few days will make very interesting viewing and I would advocate that that all news channels, media companies, law firms that have or would like to have media clients, law schools, the regulator etc make this essential viewing for all their staff who are engaged in similar matters so that they can all have a more evolved sense of how to deal with these often complex issues of media ownership, media management, media ethics and governance.


We may not be willing to impose this on ourselves but i would argue that if we are to be seen as a responsible industry, then we must make a note of the developments on this side of the pond. Then make the most of this opportunity and watch the grilling that’s going to take place, of some of the most powerful media people on the planet. There is no doubt however that the barristers who will be doing the grilling over the next few days will do so – ‘very carefully’ and will bear in mind Rupert Murdoch’s comment in July 1995, when the newly elected British PM Tony Blair came to Hayman Island to visit him and Rupert said ” I suspect we will be like two porcupines making love – very carefully”.


Peter Mukerjea, celebrated media professional and former CEO of Star India, mulls frequently for


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3 responses to “Peter Mukerjea: A Real Live Whodunnit?”

  1. Alex22butt says:

    First of all Pete can I say you look very dashing in those cool sunglasses with what looks like a handy watering hole in the background!
    Your views and summation are bang on! The events unfolding in the Leveson Enquiry have the power to topple Cameron and his favoured courtiers. The S word is back to haunt the Tories as it did back in 1990 and Labour following that. Watch this space for more hungama and keep up the sharp and topical comments rolling Pete…………Alex

  2. Harsh says:

    Whodunnit? I think that’s pretty much established by now.

    But now with the focus shifting to relations between the press and politicians with Blair, Brown and Cameron set to testify after Murdoch, it could be quite a humdinger!

  3. Sai Nagesh says:

    Absolutely true Pete. Too many tricky questions and I hope that some clarity on the way forward will emerge from the Courtroom in London ?!!
    And what do you think will be the situation if similiar scandals are discovered in India….it will be hilarious as most media organisations especially the Print are owned, managed & ‘Edited’ by A family….a sincerely yours family affair !!!!