“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful.” Edward R. Murrow
I may look too fondly at the past but my sense is that journalists once had greater respect for truth. They aimed to get stories first but to get them right. Today, leadership of the profession has abandoned interest in objective reporting and bluntly dedicated itself to promoting interests of socioeconomic elites. Not coincidentally, that describes the owners of major media properties, particularly in Canada where 90% of media influence is exercised by a handful of operators who share similar goals and philosophies.
Rupert Murdoch, more than any communications mogul, tolerates use of outrageous and outright lies, so long as those serve his objectives. Scandal, such as the lengthy phone hacking subterfuge, is an inevitability of unprincipled operation. American journalism legend Bill Moyers believes that by promoting a baldly partisan agenda, Murdoch presides over a media travesty. His journalists huff and puff, pontificate and proclaim, but do little serious original reporting. At first glance, Murdoch primarily sells babes and breasts, gossip and celebrities. Yet, his aim is to do far more than titillate misinformed half-wits. Accumulation of political sway and financial capital is the central objective. To this end, journalistic standards matter little, influence and power matter much.
Financial rewards are gained by exercise of influence. The Economist analysed the tax status of Murdoch’s News Corporation empire and found it paid only 6% of its worldwide profits in income taxes. Murdoch’s British holding company paid no net taxes over 11 years, despite billions in profits. In the USA, News Corporation recently collected almost $5 billion in tax refunds on $10.4 billion in American profits. Using 152 subsidiaries in tax havens, including 62 in the British Virgin Islands and 33 in the Caymans, News Corp is able to limit payment of taxes in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Bill Moyers writes that Rupert Murdoch is no saint;
“He is to propriety what the Marquis de Sade was to chastity. When it comes to money and power he’s carnivorous: all appetite and no taste. He’ll eat anything in his path. Politicians become little clay pigeons to be picked off with flattering headlines, generous air time, a book contract or the old-fashioned black jack that never misses: campaign cash.”
The Murdoch empire is guilty of outrages in the phone hacking situation but its deceitful practices are symptomatic of fundamental operating principles that prevail in many parts of the commercial world. We have news reporting examples in British Columbia that, while less indelicate, are equally shameless. BC Rail corruption, with political manipulation of the justice system, and the financial destruction of BC Hydro are probably the worst cases. Mainstream media made a considered decision to conceal or disregard evidence and indications that public interests have been routinely subverted by the provincial Liberal government.
“A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will in time produce a people as base as itself.” Joseph Pulitzer