Filthy Lucre

Well, it took them long enough– but maybe the Church was waiting for Newscorpse to repent…

The Church of England has sold all shares in News Corporation held in its investment portfolios on ethical grounds, after a phone hacking scandal at the media empire’s UK operations.

The Church, which has three national investing bodies, sold the shares worth 1.9 million pounds ($2.97 million) after its Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) was not satisfied with the level of corporate governance reform at Rupert Murdoch’s media conglomerate following a year of dialogue.

“Last year’s phone hacking allegations raised some serious concerns amongst the Church’s investing bodies about our holding in News Corporation,” Andrew Brown, Secretary of the Church Commissioners said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Murdoch scandal isn’t totally old news, two more arrests today– a reporter and a police officer.

It’s been said that the remedy for speech is more speech. Letting one corporation build a media monopoly works against the free flow of information. That money corrupts so deeply is the real scandal.

If it turns out that News Corp stock loses value the Church will be thanking its voice of conscience, but that probably won’t happen. The Corp will just throw a few more reporters under the bus and polish their public image for the next marketing move.

Murdoch’s WSJ Games the System

Ever read the New York Times book review and notice a little dagger symbol next to some titles on the ‘best seller’ list? That means bulk orders have been recorded. Perhaps some of that bulk is used as doorstops, or given away at seminars and written off as a tax loss by a corporation. The tricks of marketing are usually so convoluted that we peasants glaze over trying to follow the trail.

This latest is different, even I can follow this scheme that worked brilliantly until it was found out…

One of Rupert Murdoch’s most senior European executives has resigned following Guardian inquiries about a circulation scam at News Corporation’s flagship newspaper, the Wall Street Journal.

The Guardian found evidence that the Journal had been channeling money through European companies in order to secretly buy thousands of copies of its own paper at a knock-down rate, misleading readers and advertisers about the Journal’s true circulation.

The bizarre scheme included a formal, written contract in which the Journal persuaded one company to co-operate by agreeing to publish articles that promoted its activities, a move which led some staff to accuse the paper’s management of violating journalistic ethics and jeopardising its treasured reputation for editorial quality.

Internal emails and documents suggest the scam was promoted by Andrew Langhoff, the European managing director of the Journal’s parent company, Dow Jones and Co, which was bought by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in July 2007. Langhoff resigned on Tuesday.

The Guardian goes on to outline a deal that sounds like the European edition became a kind of ad sheet for a corporation that then bought copies of the WSJ for pennies and distributed them for free. This didn’t bring in money, but boosted circulation figures. A whistle-blower was told to hush up, before being ‘made redundant’ [British for ‘canned’].

It’s probably for the best that WordPress doesn’t count my own visits to Kmareka, or our stats would be much higher. But that would be cheating, wouldn’t it?

Australia Halts Murdoch Monopoly

If we’re lucky, future historians will look back on this time as a turning point…

Scandal stricken News Corp suffered a fresh setback today when Australian Competition Commission said that its $2.7 billion takeover bid of Austar raised “significant” monopoly issues and delayed decision on it till September.

The takeover bid by Foxtel, part owned by Murdoch’s News Corp would have given the company an almost undisputed sway in pay TV operations in Australia.

The delay in takeover bid was a second setback to Murdoch’s News Corp within weeks as the company had to abandon its plans to take full control of the the money spinner London based Satellite Broadcaster, BSkyB.

The Australian Competition Commission ruled that the merger of Foxtel and Austar, its major rival in Australia was likely to lead to “substantial lessening of competition in the pay TV market”.

“The proposed merger would therefore effectively create a monopoly subscription television provider across Australia”, ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ reported quoting a statement issued by the Commission.

We’ll see in September if the Australians can resist their multinational native son.

Murdoch’s Australian Media Empire

That power corrupts is old news. A big public show with some bad apples in jail, followed by business as usual is the easiest way out. News Corp shares are up, so stockholders must feel reassured that nothing will really change.

Murdoch got his start in Australia, and some politicians there are asking the important question. From Voice of America news…

The scandal has prompted a broader debate here about media ownership and regulation.

The Australian Greens are questioning News Limited’s domination of the domestic newspaper industry and want an official investigation into its operations. The party’s leader Senator Bob Brown says too much power lies in too few hands.

“We have the most concentrated newspaper ownership of any similar democracy and that means that two thirds of the metropolitan newspapers [and] two thirds of the suburban newspapers are owned by the Murdoch Empire,” said Brown. ” And it does not allow for the plurality of views that is healthy for a modern democracy.

These are the questions we should be asking here. Does a democracy need an emperor? Can a free press thrive when a monopoly increases its control year by year?

REPLY: Over at Buzzflash, CwV had this to say-

#1 We are not, technically, as concentrated as Australia, mediawise. There are seven corporations that account for something like 85% of American Media. That figure is a little misleading because in great expanses of this country, your media choices are limited so that sometimes, you can’t even find all seven Majors, and there’s nothing else in between, try to find local radio on a road trip anywhere between the Smokies and the Rockies.
Seven companies sounds like it should be a competitive environment, no monopoly here, right? Wrong. The Corporate line that all these media giants toe is so strict and so similar, it might as well be coming from one office. And it’s so far Right that Keith Olbermann is too radically Leftist for the “Liberal” MSNBC.
What’s needed (and I hope this will be the outcome of the collapse of FUX) is that 1) News Bureaus should be sheered off of the corporations that currently own them, 2)the rule about owning multiple media outlets in any given market must be reapplied and strengthened and 3) a preference for local ownership/programming should be built into the license process to encourage local media companies growth, limiting the dominance of the BigFoots.
The Supremes ruled that “News” media can lie without punishment and they have indicated that an attempt to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine will not fly. It’s clear that regulating the content of Media is not a viable (or desirable) path. It makes more sense, tactically, to go after the corporate structure that concentrates that power in too few hands, regardless of their political bent.

Thanks CwV, I especially like #3 on your list. Rhode Island has some great local programming, from all sides of the issues. Long may it wave.

Murdoch Lawyers-Up in the USA

News Corp is getting ready for a powerful defense in the US…

Rupert Murdoch is assembling a team of US lawyers with expertise in fighting large federal criminal cases, suggesting he is readying himself for a bitter legal battle in America as a result of the phone-hacking scandal.

At the centre of the team is Brendan Sullivan, one of America’s most experienced lawyers, who over 40 years in litigation has acquired a reputation for taking on difficult and sensitive cases. He represented Oliver North, the US marine corps officer, in congressional hearings over the Iran-Contra affair.

At the time of the hearings in 1987, Sullivan was described by the Washington Post as “the legal equivalent of nuclear war”. A fellow lawyer said: “He asks no quarter and gives no quarter.”

Sullivan describes himself as a specialist in “high-profile criminal litigation”, whose typical clients include major companies involved in “criminal investigations, litigation or government regulatory matters”. He is the author of Techniques for Dealing with Pending Criminal Charges or Criminal Investigations.

Reuters says the 9/11 phone hacking allegations are not based on much, and News Corp insiders say nothing was happening here that compares to the scandal in Great Britain.

Is ‘high-profile criminal litigation’ likely some time in the future?

One of the most damaging aspects of the case in Britain is the incestuous relationship between Murdoch’s media and British government. Two high ranking officers at Scotland Yard have already resigned and Parliament is holding a special session. No one questions that Fox News has a bias, and Fox is a major venue for Republican presidential hopefuls. Have they gone beyond reporting the news to manipulating the news? Is that what News Corp expects to defend?

A point of mild local pride, Brendan Sullivan was born in Providence.

The Plot Thickens

Today’s New York Times reports that Murdoch News of the World lieutenant Rebekah Brooks has been arrested.

A police statement did not identify her by name but said a 43-year-old woman had been detained for questioning by officers investigating both the phone-hacking scandal and payments made to corrupt police officers. A News International official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that Ms. Brooks had been arrested.

Britain’s Press Association news agency said she was arrested by appointment at a London police station at approximately midday and remains in custody.

Hacking, bribery and maybe some blackmail? The Darth Vader of Murdoch’s Media Empire might have to defend her paper’s tactics in getting the story cheap and dirty.

I don’t think a corporation is a person, or a conglomeration is a family– though they like to describe themselves that way. Fox News is showing a kind of family loyalty by soft-peddling this story. If they share the corporate culture of News of the World then Fox deserves a closer look.

UPDATE: The London Chief of Police has resigned for doing nothing wrong except hiring a former executive from News of the World to guard the henhouse do publicity for the force..