Corporate control and freedom of the press

For much of this summer, the international news headlines covered the travails of the Rupert Murdoch empire.  The tabloid predators found themselves as prey, with legions of paparazzi chasing down the media barons.  Testifying before the British House of Commons, Murdoch admitted that, to escape their prying eyes, he had entered 10 Downing Street by the back door to visit current Prime Minister David Cameron.  When politicians feigned shock, he explained that he had used the back door route to visit previous PM Gordon Brown.

The “hacking scandal” consumed the legendary News of the World.  It was shut down in a desperate attempt by Murdoch to protect his efforts to take over yet another network, SkyTV. 

Murdoch’s empire is enormous — the second largest in the world.  It includes the Wall Street Journal and Fox News. In additional to extensive holdings in the UK, US, Australia he owns TV holdings in Hong Kong, and beyond.

So while the US FBI begins to investigate potential hacking of phone records in the US, does any of this hold lessons for Canada?

Murdoch has been influential in Canadian politics.  Over lunch at Davos with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his then communications director Kory Teneycke, Murdoch is alleged to have persuaded them of the benefits of having a hard right TV network in Canada.  Teneycke left PMO and went to Quebecor to head up the embryonic SUN-TV.   

Whether Murdoch had a hand in the creation of SUN TV or not, there is no doubt of the influence of his model.  The point was made powerfully on July 8 in an unrelated event. A relatively unknown young CTV bureau chief, Kai Nagata, posted a blog headed “Why I quit my job.”  The posting went viral on the internet and became an immediate topic on most news networks.  (You can find it posted, with follow up in The Tyee.

It is all worth reading, but I found this comment particularly compelling:

“Consider Fox News. What the Murdoch model demonstrated was that facts and truth could be replaced by ideology, with viewership and revenue going up. Simply put, you can tell less truth and make more money. When you have to balance the interests of your shareholders against the interests of the viewers you supposedly serve, the firewall between the boardroom and the newsroom becomes a very important bulwark indeed.”

How strong is the Canadian firewall?   How much freedom is felt by our press? How much truth gets told?