Murdoch, the Gospel of Matthew, 10 O’Clock Live & the beam of British hypocrisy

by Stephen Tall on April 26, 2012

Rupert Murdoch was the cause of my first and only political speech while at university. This was back in 1996, I think, and a motion had been proposed that the common room should subscribe to BSkyB for the football. My pithy contribution was something along the lines:

I don’t like Murdoch. I don’t like Sky. I don’t want it here.

I know — a regular Cicero, eh? I guess my views were coloured both by my youthful socialism (which I soon grew out of), and by having lived in Merseyside during one of News International’s most shameful episodes, its smearing of Liverpool fans over the Hillsborough disaster.

I can’t recall which side won the BSkyB vote, and tell the story now simply as a prologue to highlight the following two points. First, my view on Rupert Murdoch has not changed. Overall, notwithstanding his brave stance on smashing the closed shop, he has been a deeply corrosive influence on this country.

And secondly, that Rupert Murdoch has only become what he is because of us. It is the British people who have allowed him to become mighty, directly by buying his newspapers, indirectly by voting for politicians who have kow-towed to his corporation.

In its review of Tom Watson’s book Dial M for Murdoch, The Economist points out:

Mr Murdoch’s media empire is not a criminal gang to be locked behind bars, leaving the streets safe. It is the largest player in a British newspaper industry in which abuses were rampant across many titles. The book dwells at length on nastiness among the powerful. But millions of ordinary newspaper-buyers gave Mr Murdoch his clout—and did not murmur when tabloids invaded the privacy of the rich or famous. Without the Milly Dowler case, involving an ordinary schoolgirl, the public mood might never have turned against the News of the World.

I’m not a fan of Channel 4’s execrable 10 O’Clock Show. As I tweeted when its second series began:

But one watchable moment was Charlie Brooker’s Sun poem, in which he lists all the minorities who have at some time been singled out for vilification by the paper Rupert Murdoch himself this week has said most closely represents his political philosophy.

The audience — us, we — laugh along. How cruel! How evil! Down with The Sun! And then eight million of us read a copy the following day. A big part of the reason The 10 O’Clock Show flops as satire is its nervous failure to confront us with the hypocrisy we all indulge in, day in, day out, pointing the finger everywhere but the mirror.

And of course its not just The Sun. The most popular UK website, the Daily Mail, is far worse, as even Rupert Murdoch today observed: it “comes right up to the barrier of fair use of what is acceptable” (though if anything he sounded almost jealous). Why is it so successful? Because so many of us click on it, that’s why.

This week has seen the thrilling humbling of a media magnate. But even as we enjoy the spectacle — see, we’re always driven by schadenfreude — here’s a phrase that springs to mind. Though you’re unlikely to find it quoted in The Sun or the Mail:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?