Saturday, June 30, 2007

Rupert Murdoch as owner of WSJ

Today's TOI has a piece by Paul Krugman on why Rupert Murdoch's bid for the Wall Street Journal should not be allowed to go through.

Noting that the Murdoch-owned Fox news channel was substantially responsible for flawed perceptions about Iraq and its links with Al-Qaeda, Krugman writes:

The problem with Murdoch isn't that he's a right-wing ideologue. If that were all he was, he'd be much less dangerous. What he is, rather, is an opportunist who exploits a rule-free media environment - one created, in part, by conservative political power - by slanting news coverage to favour whoever he thinks will serve his business interests.

In the US, that strategy has mainly meant blatant bias in favour of the Bush administration and the Republican Party - but last year Murdoch covered his bases by hosting a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton's Senate re-election campaign.

In Britain, Murdoch endorsed Tony Blair in 1997 and gave his government favourable coverage, “ensuring”, reports The New York Times , “that the new government would allow him to keep intact his British holdings”.

And in China, Murdoch's organisations have taken care not to offend the dictatorship. Now, Murdoch's people rarely make flatly false claims.

Instead, they usually convey misinformation through innuendo. During the early months of the Iraq occupation, for example, Fox gave breathless coverage to each report of possible WMDs, with little or no coverage of the subsequent discovery that it was a false alarm.

No wonder, then, that many Fox viewers got the impression that WMDs had been found. When all else fails, Murdoch's news organisations simply stop covering inconvenient subjects.

.....................If Murdoch does acquire The Journal, it will be a dark day for America's news media - and American democracy.

But the deal appears to be going through although the WSJ is working out safeguards to preserve its editorial independence. FT reports that key editors are to be retained.

The centrepiece of those efforts is an editorial board that would include a five-member committee with the power to approve the hiring and firing of key editors. Initially, these would be appointed by the mutual agreement of Dow Jones and News Corp. Thereafter, the committee would name its own replacements.

Well, these can at best be temporary safeguards. Eventually, Murdoch is bound to tighten his grip on the paper. Whether he will then proceed to blatantly interfere with WSJ's editorial policy is anybody's guess. Murdoch is too shrewd a businessman to do something that can ultimate undermine a paper's reputation and following. Besides, some would say that Murdoch would have no quarrel with the WSJ's decidedly right-wing leanings.

1 comment:

Krishnan said...

We all see the world through the mental maps we create - The Wall Street Journal is very different from the NY Times or the Washington Post - Often however the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal espouses views that are decidedly libertarian and against the grain of conservatives or liberals. On the issue of immigration, the WSJ has remained consistent and aligned with the themes that Reagan used to speak about when talking about the USA - that stance infuriates many Republicans/right wing types.

I'd say that the WSJ (editorial pages and news) is very balanced and very independent - and so I do worry about what Murdoch might do to advance his own causes. Yet, a newspaper that defends the free market so vigorously and the marvels of the stock market and free flow of money cannot now stop Murdoch from acquiring the Journal, if the owners decide to sell ...

If Murdoch buys the Journal, he is free to do with it what he wants - and yes, destroy it if he wants - though we know that he will be careful. It will be interesting to watch and see what develops - and see the gradual change (as it happens) on the Editorial Pages and news coverage.

I am examining my subscription rules to see if I have the choice of cancelling it - if Murdoch throws tantrums and starts misbehaving.