The one feature that unites all recent commentary on Rupert Murdoch’s audacious bid to completely buy out BSkyB TV is that such a move would give one man a disproportionate control over Britain’s media. In this respect they are all barking up the wrong tree. Rupert Murdoch and his international News Corporation already have a massively undemocratic control over British affairs and I’m not just talking about sport. Whether he succeeds in buying the remaining part of Sky that he does not already own is largely immaterial to his already massive, unaccountable, undemocratic influence over British politics. Yes, the proposed buyout will be a bad thing for what passes for British democracy, a wafer thin phenomena at the best of times. Yes, a Murdoch total buyout of Sky will place Murdoch in a similar position to that of Berlusconi in Italy. And yes, with total control of Sky, Murdoch will be able to further manipulate our TV viewing habits by linking his press and TV interests even more closely. But the unpalatable truth is that he can and does do all of this and much more already. Journalists are at least ten years late in their Armageddon style articles. The beast is already here.


Having spent my formative years growing up in Oz I have a slight advantage over many British commentators. Australia was Murdoch’s apprenticeship and he passed that test with flying colours. Owning and controlling vast swathes of the Australian media, including the only national newspaper, popular magazine titles and of course TV stations, Murdoch was able and more than willing to put his significant media influence to work in the political sphere. When it came to elections, Murdoch was never shy. He would systematically cultivate the opposition party in order to extract promises, implicit and explicit, in return for editorial support come election time. Murdoch has no favourites. Whichever party promises to give his economic interests the easiest ride will win the day.

It wasn’t difficult. In Australian politics, much like that of most Western democracies, the majority of the electorate have their fixed, tribal voting patterns and not much will disturb that. The chances of me voting Tory, for example, are virtually nil. So, most elections in Oz hinge on, at most, a twenty percent swinging vote. All Murdoch needed do was focus attention on this relatively small, easily influenced electorate, and he could win the day. This he did as regular as clockwork. With the usual toxic combination of xenophobic prejudice and economic popularism, bordering at times on fascistic popularism, Murdoch would influence the swinging voter and thus deliver the ‘popular vote’ to the most compliant party. Both the main parties would trip over themselves to keep the Murdoch empire on their side.

The one time Australia had a clearly left leaning, radical Labour Party under the leadership of a Gough Whitlam, the Murdoch press went into overdrive in its endeavours to keep Australia safe for his economic interests. The vilification of the Whitlam government in the Murdoch press was on a par with the McCarthyist anti communist witch hunts of the 1950’s in the USA. Exactly the sort of 24/7 vilification that Murdoch is carrying out against the Obama administration via his Fox TV network.

In defiance of this open manipulation of Australia’s very limited democracy, a radical, unemployed youth collective produced a stunning, giant sized poster with a sinister looking Murdoch staring down in big-brother 1984 mode, with the caption: ‘Don’t worry, I’m in complete control’. How prophetic those young radicals proved to be. At that stage Murdoch’s empire was largely confined to Australia. Thirty years on and his multi-media empire is truly world-wide and its ambition knows no bounds. Should Murdoch fail in his bid to take complete control of Sky TV it will not make a shred of difference. His influence is already near on ubiquitous. Guess who was one of the first people to get an audience with newly elected David Cameron? No prizes for guessing correctly. Rupert Murdoch is already in complete control.

Using his existing tools; the venomous Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times, The News of the World, Sky and Star satellite TV, Harper Collins publishing company, and all his other titles around the globe, Murdoch is already well positioned to influence the global ebb and flow of politics. He is also well positioned for the next wave of the digital revolution whereby television, music, film, sport, news, and social networking sites become inter-changeable via Murdoch controlled online systems. Gaining total control of Sky TV would just make the empire run a little smoother.

Dan Sabbagh, writing in The Observer 12/10/10 offers a fair summary of the implications of the ubiquitous Murdoch empire for the world of sport.

‘Sky’s domination of sport in the UK is now absolute following the collapse of Setanta sports in June 2009. The satellite broadcaster fought hard to win control of live Premier League football in the 1990’s, and with a budget of about £1bn a year it is easily able to outspend rivals, reducing competitors to a handful of events, most of which are restricted by law to free-to-air television.’

Sabbagh continues the story with the international implications of Murdoch’s imminent total buy-out of Sky.

‘A tie-up with News Corporation, though, would increase Sky’s firepower across Europe. Rival broadcasters fear that Sky in the UK could, in effect, cross-subsidise bids for Champions League football by working with pay television broadcasters that Rupert Murdoch’s company already owns in Italy and controls in Germany – which could eventually set a precedent for joint bids for events like the Olympic Games and World Cup.’

One of the worst features of the growing Murdoch machine is the dumbing-down effect it has on popular consciousness. If Murdoch was in the business of producing quality material then it could be argued that his presence was no more malign than that of the BBC. But Murdoch is not in the business of making thought provoking dramas or documentaries that might tempt one to question the status quo. Why would he when the status quo suits him just fine. Instead Murdoch is content to recycle existing dross and where necessary, buy up any quality programmes, all the better to squeeze out the opposition. Already the distribution rights of some of the recent HBO gems have been bought up by Murdoch, thus creating the illusion that Sky TV is in the business of quality programming. It is just an illusion. Once the Murdoch monopoly is complete, there will be no need for Sky TV to show any quality drama. Trivial game shows, never-ending X Factor talent shows, cheap demeaning reality TV and endlessly recycled mindless cop dramas, interspersed with copious quantities of global sport, will do the trick.

Vince Cable has a chance to make a name for himself. He has the authority to block the Murdoch takeover on the grounds of unfair competition. But don’t hold your breath. He is already positioning himself to hide behind the European Commission’s findings, which should not inspire confidence in anyone who cherishes media diversity. And forget not that Cable failed to make a stand on tuition fees and the £10,000 tax threshold, two Lib Dem’s cherished tenets, so when the political pressure is turned up, expect him to take a dive.

There are bigger questions at stake when the Murdoch empire comes to the fore. Where is the globalised homogeneous culture that Murdoch is so instrumental in controlling, taking us to? Are there any benefits to a globalised culture alongside a globalised economy? Is the eradication of local and national culture to be mourned or welcomed? Will the world be a better or worse place for a globalised culture that on the one hand might lessen local and national prejudice but on the other leads inextricably to a bland McCulture where there is not even a fictional vision of something else. A world dominated by a handful of giant global corporations supported by an unquestioning culture that has lost the ability to remotely imagine organising the world any other way. A truly Orwellian nightmare that is coming to your home any day now.

End JPK 7/11/10 Copyright

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