2011-01-14 Murdoch & News Corp: A Preview

Much ink has been spilled in the last 24 hours over the insurance file Julian Assange alluded to in his interview with John Pilger of New Statesman. In the event that something should happen to WikiLeaks or Assange himself, insurance files will be released which contain "504 files on one broadcasting organisation." There are also "cables on Murdoch and News Corp," Assange tells us.

Interesting possibilities for the scope of the leaks are vast and include technology, politics and the media. Each in turn.

News of the Wikileaks files comes at what might be an inconvenient time for Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO of News Corp., who is in the midst of launching his "new baby" in conjunction with Apple founder Steve Jobs. The baby is apparently worth $300M to Murdoch and comes in the form of an iPad-only publication called "The Daily" (Source).

News Corp. has also ventured into the domain of online education technology. In November 2010,

...News Corporation announced that it had signed an agreement to buy 90 percent of Wireless Generation for $360 million in cash, its first foray into the for-profit world of education since its book publishing arm, Harper Collins, got out of the textbook business in the mid-1990s. The deal thrusts one of the world’s largest media conglomerates behind a concept championed by New York City’s schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein: a numbers-based system to evaluate and rank schools and to improve teaching. (Source)

Exactly how Klein’s burgeoning passion for this stuff will take shape inside News Corp. has yet to be hammered out. But he makes clear that he believes the “huge transformation in the field of education” that is coming is “going to be driven by private markets”—by a wave of digital-learning start-ups now swelling around the country. (Source)

Another notable project on Murdoch's plate involves some generous contributions to the The Republican Governors Association in June 2010, clearly revealing unabashedly the kinship between Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and the GOP (The Republican Party). News Corp. contributed $1 million dollars, claiming that "News Corp. believes in the power of free markets, and the RGA’s pro-business agenda supports our priorities at this most critical time for our economy." (Source)

The stakes? Former Governors Mitt Romney, Governor Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin are potential 2012 presidential candidates for the Republican Party. So is Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who took over the RGA as Chairman in June 2009.

News Corp. also contributed $1 million in 2010 to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been "running an aggressive campaign in support of the Republican effort to retake Congress" (Source).

“The Republican Party was not going to be rebuilt out of Washington,” said Mike Schrimpf, an RGA spokesman. “Our party has always fared best when our leaders came from the states.” (Source)

"NBC gives us money," said Governor Haley Barbour. "There is nothing wrong with corporations contributing to governors' races. It is perfectly legal. Lots of them do it, including lots of them that are in the news businesses." (Source)

The Media
Perhaps the most historical project in the making is Murdoch's potential takeover of satellite broadcaster BSkyB. "News Corp already owns 39% of BSkyB but is looking to take full control of the company." (Source) News Corp's first bid was rejected, but a recent takeover bid in December 2010 was approved by the European Commission.

The news came before the revelation that UK Business Secretary Vince Cable had said he planned to block the move to take full control of BSkyB.

Mr. Cable told undercover reporters that he had "declared war" on Mr Murdoch. (Source).

Cable was shortly thereafter "relieved of some of his powers".

The idea of one man or company controlling a large proportion of the nation's newspaper and broadcasting interests is an issue of public concern - particularly when that person takes a close interest in the political agenda of his newspapers and one of them claims to influence general elections.

The famous headline "It's The Sun Wot Won It" appeared on the front page of The Sun on 11 April 1992 after it supported the Conservatives in the lead-up to their election victory.

It is generally accepted that freedom of speech is enhanced by having a diversity or plurality of editorial voices. There are legal restrictions on media ownership (at a local level, as well as national), and major takeovers are subject to scrutiny by regulators - provided the politicians give the go-ahead. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12062176)

It remains to be seen which, if any of these projects will be jeopardized by the information in Wikileaks' possession. One thing is certain, however. For an ambitious man like Murdoch who has so much to gain from his numerous ventures, some riskier than others, news of the insurance file cannot be comforting. Where there is much to be be gained, there is at least an equal proportion of potential loss.