Editorial from the Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party (CWI in England & Wales)
"Murdochgate" is Britain’s Watergate. In politics, as in nature, the "butterfly effect" operates. A seemingly small event – the famous metaphor of the flutter of a butterfly’s wings – can begin a chain of events resulting in massive unforeseen consequences. In the case of the Watergate break-in, it led to the discrediting and downfall of Richard Nixon, the President of the most powerful nation on earth, the U.S. Cameron and his corrupt, rotten government deserve the same fate today. Watergate exposed the rottenness at the heart of the U.S. administration and threatened the social system it was based upon, capitalism. The U.S. ruling class took fright, in particular, at the seemingly out-of-control, semi-dictatorial regime of Nixon and his acolytes, which continued and expanded the adventure of the Vietnam War that was not over by the time of his eviction from the White House. But Watergate also lifted the lid to expose the web of lies and conspiracies involving capitalist politicians, criminals and the state. Only by the diligence of a few committed reporters and the fact that Nixon had taped all his crimes and misdemeanors did the truth eventually come out. Similar revelations are now taking place here. Cameron, the Murdoch empire and the police have been involved in a corrupt attempt to subvert the democratic rights of the British people.
It was the exposure of the disgusting hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s mobile phone by the lowlife employed by Murdoch’s News International which represented the tipping point. The mass outrage that this provoked – similar to but on a much larger scale than the reaction in Liverpool to the Sun’s attack on Liverpool football fans at Hillsborough – shattered the plans of Murdoch and others like Cameron and the Coalition government to ride out the storm provoked by the hacking scandal. Only days before, it was clear that the so-called Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, was preparing to agree to Murdoch’s bid for majority ownership of satellite station BSkyB which would allow him to control 40% of Britain’s media outlets. It is very doubtful – if not ruled out – that even Cameron could proceed to ratify this deal in the face of mass outrage at the Murdoch empire and its acolytes. A mass campaign to oppose the deal, largely organised through new media such as social networking, has mobilized 170,000 objections to the takeover of BSkyB!
Further revelations about the hacking of the families of war dead and the relations of the 7/7 victims only reinforced the mood. In its wake, politicians, capitalist reporters and commentators, and the police who hid the evidence of criminal activity by Murdoch employees – including those at the top of News International, Rebekah Wade and Murdoch’s son James, were all hypocritically and nauseatingly scrambling over one another to distance themselves from their former patron. Alastair Campbell, Blair’s PR front man, rubbished weapons expert David Kelly and journalist Andrew Gilligan for telling the truth about the "dodgy dossier" and weapons of mass destruction. Now, with a straight face, he writes in the Financial Times [11 July]:
“At the reception [for Rebekah Wade’s wedding] I had a brief conversation with Mr Cameron. I said I hoped he would not win the upcoming election, but that if he did, and if he wanted to act to improve political debate and standards in the press, I would support him… ‘It’s got worse, hasn’t it?’ he said. I replied that he would be a much stronger prime minister were he to take office not feeling he owed anything to the big media groups. At that point Mr Murdoch joined us, and we changed the subject. Perhaps we should not have done so. That we did, however, illustrated something of the dishonesty at the heart of what are essentially political and commercial relationships.” Cameron has even had the brass neck to argue "we were all in it together" in kowtowing to Murdoch. Well we aren’t!
All those who fought back against capitalism were vilified mercilessly by the Murdoch and right-wing gutter media in general. Tony Benn, when he stood for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party, was compared to Hitler, as was Arthur Scargill before, during and after the miners’ strike. The heroic Liverpool Militants, along with those who scored a victory over Thatcher in the epic poll-tax battle, were singled out for special treatment. Tommy Sheridan is in jail today because of a vendetta by Murdoch personally to "get this little communist." It has now been subsequently demonstrated by the latest revelations that it was Murdoch and his shameful "witnesses" who were lying and, in Andy Coulson’s case, suppressing evidence which would have helped Tommy Sheridan in court.
Cameron, Osborne and the rest of the gang that dominate this illegitimate Coalition government cannot be allowed to just distance themselves from Murdoch now. Cameron and his wife wined and dined, and "hacked," in the horse-riding sense, with Rebekah Wade and James Murdoch. They were as thick as thieves in what was dubbed the "Chipping Norton" set. Cameron unbelievably still describes Coulson as a "friend": "Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are."
More importantly, this affair has exposed the virtual stranglehold which Murdoch has exerted over British government policy and all important aspects of life in the last decades. One Murdoch editor told John Major – the previous Tory Prime Minister – that he would pour "a big bucket of shit" over his head if he did not comply with Murdoch’s orders. Andrew Rawnsley, of the Observer commented: "And the foul stuff was duly tipped over him." Tony Blair famously flew to Australia to get on his knees to Murdoch in order to gain his support before the 1997 election. Once elected, Murdoch was often referred to as the "24th member of the Cabinet"! Murdoch visited Blair three times personally in order to pressurize him on behalf of George Bush to support the Iraq invasion. Not that Blair needed all that much persuasion. But it is a fact that the mass of the British people demonstrated unequivocal opposition to this; but that was incidental. The diktats of American imperialism through the medium of Murdoch were pre-eminent. Moreover, we learn now that as Blair was preparing to leave 10 Downing Street in 2007, Murdoch was already lurking in a Bentley ready and eager to see the new man Gordon Brown to press on him his orders!
It is to the eternal shame of "Labour" leaders that it has been media "personalities" like Hugh Grant and comedians like Steve Coogan who have been left to tell some of the truth about the News of the World and Murdoch. Coogan stated on Newsnight [8 July]: “People keep saying it is a very bad day for the press. It is a wonderful day for the press: a small victory for decency and humanity… People talk as if they have fallen below their usual high standards. They were already in the gutter, it is just that they have sunk lower than anyone thought they could.”
Even now, with his back to the wall, Murdoch through his acolytes has warned new Labour leader Ed Miliband that News Corporation "will turn on him and his staff" for having the temerity to demand the resignation of Rebekah Wade at the same time as he expressed opposition to the BSkyB deal going ahead. However Miliband did this only after the scandal of the Milly Dowler hacking was revealed. Moreover, his strategy director, Tom Baldwin, was urging Labour MPs only a few weeks ago not to raise the issue of Murdoch’s takeover of BSkyB!
Previously, he sipped champagne while attending Murdoch’s party just weeks previous to this! He now claims this was merely a "social occasion"! Nothing could be further from the truth. All the evidence shows that Murdoch invitees are there to be politically nobbled, to ensure that political leaders of all the main parties toe Murdoch’s line. If they don’t, they can expect the same kind of treatment meted out to the "uncompliant." Murdoch even tried to use Tony Blair to lean on Gordon Brown when he was prime minister to silence Labour MP Tom Watson, who has courageously been to the forefront together with Guardian journalists like Nick Davies in exposing this scandal.
All of this indicates the warped character of British "democracy." The Observer, in its editorial, admits as much: “Over 40 years, Murdoch convinced the establishment that he can make or break political reputations and grant or take away electoral success. In doing so, he has come close to gelding parliament, damaging the rights of citizens and undermining democracy.” Everyone can have their say and vote as they like so long as the big capitalists and the hired liars in the press and the media can decide what happens. It is not just Murdoch who exercises semi-dictatorial rule in seeking to shape public opinion in Britain. Equally undemocratic are those press moguls like Paul Dacre of the Mail group whose journalists often dip their pens in mad-dog saliva against individuals and the labour movement.
The concentration of media ownership has now produced a situation whereby 10 corporations own 75% of the media. This has resulted in huge job losses amongst journalists. 200 journalists and other staff have lost their jobs with the closure of the News of the World. We can honestly say that we do not regret the demise of this muckraking paper. But no one can support in a period of mass unemployment people being thrown out of their jobs and in such an arbitrary fashion. And how many tears were shed by the capitalists for the 1,400 workers who lost their jobs when Murdoch moved his newspapers lock, stock and barrel to Wapping in 1986?
However, the current undemocratic situation of the press and the media in Britain will not be cured by a few cosmetic measures such as "the strengthening of the press complaints committee." This will be no more effective in checking anti-working class gutter journalism than police violence will be checked by the police investigating themselves. Nor is it sufficient merely to call, as some on the left incredibly have done, for the "break-up of the Murdoch empire." We don’t want mini-Murdochs to replace the slain monster. All those responsible for violating the confidentiality and rights of individuals should be brought to book, charged and if found guilty should receive the appropriate punishment. But even if this was to happen it would not alter one jot the grip exercised by undemocratic forces – beholden to capitalism – over the media.
New alternative socialist media must be built by the trade unions and working people. But this must be accompanied by raising now the need, in the first instance, for the democratic nationalization of the printing presses, television and radio under democratic popular management and control – beginning with the state confiscation of the resources of News Corporation, which has demonstrated that it is a danger to democracy itself. We, the working class and the labor movement, do not want to take over the Sun, the Daily Mail or even the "august" Guardian.
We opposed the state monopoly of news and information that existed in Stalinist states. The real alternative is democratic working-class and popular control of the press and media in general. This will not result in a monopoly for the government or one party but allow access to the media in proportion to political support. Capitalism and Stalinism defend undemocratic control of the media by a minority. Socialists stand for taking the "production of information" out of the hands of a minority and into the hands of the majority, which would allow full freedom of discussion and decision-making.