Thursday 17 January 2019

Murdoch's Irish media arm under the spotlight over interference

Pushing political opinion is nothing new for the media mogul as his newspapers put their spin on the amendment debate, writes Liam Collins

Follow me: Rupert Murdoch’s philosophy of taking political stances on national issues has become ingrained in the mindset of his media outlets.
Follow me: Rupert Murdoch’s philosophy of taking political stances on national issues has become ingrained in the mindset of his media outlets.
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Whether or not newspapers can influence the outcome of an election or a referendum is arguable. But certainly the world's most powerful media mogul Rupert Murdoch believes they can, otherwise why would his newspapers continually intervene in everything from the Brexit referendum in Britain to the looming battle over the Eighth Amendment in Ireland?

Neither Brexit nor the Eighth Amendment are likely to sell a lot of newspapers but by taking a side, The Sunday Times, the Irish edition of The Times and The Sun, have again emphasised the cultural differences between Ireland and Britain.

Taking a side has been historically acceptable in Britain, where Murdoch has shaped the modern political landscape. His media interventions have influenced such diverse political issues as who forms the government to what way people voted on Brexit.

Not over here, though, where we do things differently, maybe not better, but differently.

Reviewing David McKnight's book, Murdoch's Politics, Conor Brady, former editor of the Irish Times, said: "McKnight paints a deeply disturbing picture of an organisation driven by contrived polarities, half-truths and ideology-based spin." The review continued: "He sees his media empire as shaping key international relationships, in particular strengthening the alliances between the US and Britain at the expense of the latter's relationship with Europe."

Murdoch has enormous power on an international scale and loves to use it.

A recent pro-choice story in The Sunday Times headlined: 'HSE used Eighth to try and force me to have a caesarean', appeared as a sponsored post from the paper in Facebook users' news feeds and has been interpreted by the Pro-life side in the abortion debate in Ireland as another strand of the newspaper's bias in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment.

Now no one really considers that the billionaire owner of News Corp is actually in any way interested or concerned about whether or not Ireland repeals the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, but his philosophy of taking political stances on national issues has become ingrained in the mindset of his media outlets, and particularly his newspapers.

And he has taken the time and trouble from his international schedule to visit his Dublin outposts, so little escapes his beady-eyed attention.

A Guardian reviewer of the McKnight book told how the Australian tycoon "transmits his political desires" to his media empire.

"The eerily consistent ideology of his newspapers and TV commentators is maintained in a lovely, menacing phrase quoted here from a former Murdoch editor, Eric Beecher, "by phone and by clone".

Executives are chosen for their ability and willingness to anticipate Murdoch's thinking. On the rare occasions that more direct guidance is needed: "I give instructions to my editors all around the world," as Murdoch put it in 1982.

The Sun's campaign to "topple the Brussels bureaucrats" in the Brexit referendum is clearly the result of interpreting the proprietor's distrust of the hated EU chiefs, which has led to a long line of half-true stories of the restrictive rules they want to impose on the British - everything from straight bananas to Polish plumbers.

It influenced the outcome of Britain's disastrous decision to leave the European Union, a campaign in which it was aided and abetted, strangely, by the Irish edition of The Sunday Times.

The Sun, as it does, boasted about it afterwards while avoiding responsibility for the misinformation of its simplistic approach and twisted headlines.

Murdoch doesn't do balance and his newspapers (and his other media) toe the political line of their proprietor on a variety of issues, until he changes his mind. Then his media change to suit any new stance he might adopt.

During the Brexit referendum in Britain, Murdoch's favourite tabloid The Sun, along with the Daily Mail, led the charge by posing preposterous headlines to influence readers against the EU.

In what was a narrow victory, this intervention possibly changed the outcome of the referendum, the result of which already means so much to Irish people, north and south of the border and could indeed change our destiny in significant ways.

The Sun went so far as to second-guess Britain's Queen Elizabeth, with a front-page splash headed 'Queen backs Brexit'.

Nick Clegg, then the Liberal Democrat leader and deputy Prime Minister, who was supposed to have been present at a lunch when the Queen vented her ire at the EU, described the story as "nonsense" while Buckingham Palace insisted that the Queen remained "politically neutral as she has for 63 years".

The Irish edition of The Sunday Times took its cue from The Sun, telling readers in its editorial: "This Thursday, Britain should vote to leave.

Yes, it must be prepared for a bumpy ride, but this vote may be the only opportunity to call a halt to the onward march of the centralising Europe project. Such a state would be neither in Britain's interests, nor Europe's."

Whatever about calling a halt to the "centralising European project" the effect of exiting the EU is looking increasingly like a political and financial fiasco for Britain.

For his more discerning but fewer buyers of the London-based The Times, the bet was hedged.

They were told in an editorial in favour of the 'remain' side that Brexit could have "unknown and alarming consequences for the UK and Europe".

Well, they got that one right.

The question for us on this side of the Irish Sea is do we want Mr Murdoch telling us which way to vote in a general election or in a referendum?

Do discerning and well-informed voters need direction from the media, at home or abroad?

We can make up our minds and indeed change them if we see fit, as happened with the Lisbon Treaty.

But to the Murdoch media, this lack of a 'stiff upper lip' is repugnant, they feel that like Lord Cardigan and the Light Brigade, once the order is given to charge, it must be carried out and to hell with the consequences.

We like to make up our own minds in Ireland.

Both the Irish edition of The Times and The Sunday Times have seemingly decided that we don't.

Repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution is a serious matter and stories favouring one side or the other should not be reduced to sponsored posts from newspapers.

Surely readers deserve better.

Sunday Independent

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