Murdoch saga - lessons for our Republic, India

By Hindustan Times

The trouble Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has brought upon itself by crossing the line is a ringing warning for journalists and media organisations across the world. India included.

From being the influence peddler par excellence who pretended to make and unmake governments, Murdoch’s battling to salvage his name and reputation in the UK and across the Atlantic. Senior Indian journalists and proprietors of newspapers are flooded with calls from the UK asking how the unfolding drama was being viewed in our country the beleaguered media king had always viewed as his next El Dorado.

Murdoch’s Indian venture encompasses television news, films, broadcasting, cable networking, DTH, digital and wireless services. Star India Private Limited that controls these businesses is a 100% subsidiary of the scandal hit News Corporation.

Star India — a network of 32 channels in eight languages that feed 400 million people a week — reportedly holds 26% equity in the Hindi news channel Star News run jointly with a Kolkata-based media house. In the south its presence is conspicuous through Star Vijay and Asianet. It is surprising then that at the level of the government and the industry, the tremors of the quake that has rocked Murdoch haven’t been felt with matching alacrity. Will it be prudent to keep doors ajar for an organisation that resorted to bribery and blackmail, invaded personal lives and exploited tragedies in an insatiable, almost satanic, search for headlines, TRPs and soaring circulations? The question needs a debate involving all stakeholders — the readers/viewers, the industry and the government.

As it now turns out, beneath the Murdoch conglomerate’s journalistic garb was a blatant, shameless desire to interfere in political processes, manipulate leaders, parties, popular opinion and electoral out comes. The driving ambition of its top leadership brooked no civility or fair play. Murdoch and his favorites and minions at News Corporation patronized and socialized with successive British Premiers: Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron. Blair sought to influence Brown in favor of Rebekah Brooks. Cameron hired former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his media advisor. Both Rebekah and Coulson are now at the centre of probes that could knock the bottom out of the credibility of an empire that — on the positive side — used profits made from publications under fire to sustain quality newspapers such as The Sunday Times.

A rival that persistently exposed News Corporation’s questionable news gathering and professionalism, The Guardian, has reasons to rejoice. It stands vindicated in retrospect for having first shed light on how journalists on Murdoch’s pay bought their way through cases that could have exposed their criminal methods to get stories.

The model that helped The Guardian Media Group keep its editorial freedom, without influence from corporate entities and peer competition, is worth emulation in India. It’s run with the money the Scott Trust Limited (formerly Scott Trust) earns through other businesses.

A great newspaper doesn’t just have to be big. It has to be upright first.

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