Belfast Telegraph

Forget Rupert, it is MPs who are 'unfit' ones here

Murdoch-bashing has become a substitute for proper debate about democracy, says Mike Gilson

Back in the strife-torn mid-1980s, I was one of many hundreds of journalists on picket line duty at Wapping as Rupert Murdoch drove a cart and horses through employment legislation to rid himself of troublesome print unions and begin his newspaper revolution in Britain.

I almost got bowled over by a charging police horse that day, so I don't think I can be dismissed as a Rupert apologist.

I never thought I would say this, but I'm starting to feel sorry for the old fellow. For the truth is yesterday's report by the House of Commons Culture Committee, that described Murdoch as "unfit" to run a multi-national corporation, was a disgrace, as terrible an example of axe-grinding, revenge-seeking MPs over-stepping their remit as you are likely to find.

We all know the story. News International newspapers, particularly the News Of The World, broke the law by phone-hacking on an industrial scale.

The newspaper closed, people lost their jobs, arrests have been made and a whole industry of inquiries is under way into the very fabric of society and the hob-nobbing of hacks, the ruling classes and the rozzers. Lawyers are becoming rich.

Step forward the self-important culture committee and its star turn, Labour MP Tom Watson. Had the committee's report stopped at the conclusion that there was "wilful blindness" on the part of News International management, including the Murdochs, Rupert and James, to phone-hacking, it might have served a purpose.

Senior management have been caught with their trousers down, in Sun parlance. Murdoch senior and his motivations are in the spotlight like never before.

Son James was at best hopeless at running a newspaper company, so old-style familial succession has been proved inappropriate for modern corporations. Self-regulation of the Press will be beefed up like never before and not many would argue about that.

But wait a minute. "Unfit to run" a modern corporation? Where did that come from? The committee was split on that one and it was Tom and his Labour colleagues, along with the committee's lone Liberal Democrat, who stuck out for that particular bit of polemic.

Shareholders and boards of companies decide what happens to those who run the firm for them - not politicians who'd struggle running the proverbial whelk stall.

Chairmen and CEOs can be brutally expunged, escorted from premises if the share price drops. The market sniffs out weakness.

Yes, regulation has to be strong and an untrammelled market is undesirable, but we have long since lost all sense of perspective on Rupert Murdoch.

To read the more hysterical commentators you would have Rupe down as the Devil Incarnate, Beelzebub, the possessor of superhuman powers of control.

Old Tom himself ludicrously claimed that Murdoch has set out to create a "shadow state" that could intimidate Parliament. Wow.

The truth is Murdoch-bashing has become a substitute for a proper debate about democracy.

Why have politicians made this man out to be such a monster? Is it because it was they who fell over themselves to win his favour?

I think we can take it as read that it was Blair, Cameron and others who beat a path to his door seeking favours, not the other way around. This new class of professional politician is so hopelessly out of touch with its constituents that Murdoch was the short-cut to get the attention of the masses.

Policies, ideology, belief and hard graft could be replaced by an 'It Was The Sun Wot Won It' headline. The creation of media myths is what modern politics is all about. We have become a weaker democracy for it. That is where the debate should really be had.

In the meantime, as one who can still hear the clip-clop of police horse hoof on pavement, I find myself in the strange position of saying that, in the league table of "unfitness" for a major role in modern society, Rupert might not even be in the play-off.

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