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News Media Last Updated: Jan 4th, 2007 - 01:08:31

Murdoch megalomania
By Jerry Mazza
Online Journal Associate Editor

Dec 14, 2006, 00:28

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James Murdoch, the son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, has settled into being not only a mogul, i.e., BSkyB Chief Executive, but is guilty of the same megalomania he accused (with a sweep of his �unseen hand�) the BBC of exhibiting.

Reuters via Yahoo reported young James delivered a �withering attack� on the BBC in a speech in London, hosted by UK media regulator Ofcom, the analogue of our FCC. James was trumpeting how �the triumph of the free market surely indicates that broadcasting should be more like other industries.�

Well, media is not quite like other industries. Bottom line, media is about winning hearts and minds, not to mention pocketbooks. And the Murdoch family megalomania most often swings opinion to the neocon far-right and/or whatever is lowest common denominator �entertainment.� There�s nothing free about that.

Nor, given the scope of Sky�s activities, does it seem inhibited or a slave of regulation. In fact, it seems to be inhaling the British airwaves in a variety of media enterprises, much like papa�s increasing menu of media delectables, which make it the third-largest U.S. media company and growing. And that makes papa a billionaire.

How BSkyB fits in the Murdoch broadcast empire

For starters, Google tells us BSkyB stands for the blend of Sky Television and British Satellite Broadcasting. �Sky is a leading provider of sports, movies, entertainment and news -- whose channels are received by almost 10 million households in the United Kingdom, including 5 million digital satellite subscribers. Sky�s majority owned company, Open, is also developing the network�s interactive services.

�British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB -- formerly two companies, Sky Television and British Satellite Broadcasting) is a company that operates Sky Digital, the most popular subscription television service in the UK and Ireland. It also produces TV content, and TV channels. It is controlled by 35 percent shareholders News Corporation, an American company chaired by Rupert Murdoch.�

In fact, a recent side deal with Liberty Media Corp will help Rupert Murdoch�s News Corp as well avoid literally billions in capital gains taxes on their investments in News Corp and DirecTV, respectively. You can hear the gobbling from here.

What�s more, papa�s Fox Network was acquired in 1995 when the FCC somehow ruled in Murdoch�s favor, stating that despite the fact that Fox was owned by News Ltd.�s Australian base (which should be illegal), that it would be �in the public�s interest� for Murdoch�s ownership to continue in the U.S. I don�t personally think watching neocon news and bad sitcoms with a dash of brash episodic TV is really in the �public�s interest.� I think it�s in the interest of the Murdoch cash register.

Wikipedia further reports that �In 1996, Fox established the Fox News Channel, a 24-hour cable news station,� which I would consider in the vanguard of reactionary news. �Since its launch it has consistently eroded CNN's market share, and it now bills itself as "the most-watched cable news channel." This is due in part to recent ratings studies, released in the fourth quarter of 2004, showing that the network had nine of the top 10 programs in the �Cable News� category.� By the way, all of this �yellow journalism� licks the boots of administration policies.

�In 1999, Murdoch significantly expanded his music holdings in Australia by acquiring the controlling share in a leading Australian independent label, Michael Gudinski's Mushroom Records; he merged that with Festival Records and the result was Festival Mushroom Records (FMR). Both Festival and FMR were managed by Murdoch's son James for several years.� That is until James wanted to expand his horizons. Like papa like son.

In 2003 SKY Italia was acquired. Once again, �free� is the stand-in word here for devouring markets with conservative to reactionary programming. Not unlike our own religious televangelists, notably Pat Robertson, bombarding public consciousness with his world-wide Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Begun in 1960, it comes with Robertson�s own private brand of conservative and political Christianity, a story unto itself, Rapture et al.

The venerable BBC

Returning to James, his railing about being inhibited by the public service BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), which has earned itself a world-wide reputation for quality programming, from news to comedy, drama to documentary, seems disingenuous.

The BBC was established in 1926 (with a current charter running until 2007) as the national public broadcaster of the United Kingdom, and is the largest broadcasting corporation in the world, with a staff of 26,000 in the UK alone and a budget of four billion pounds a year.

True it is a state-owned system, run by a board of governors chosen by the queen on advice of government ministers. Yet the BBC�s mandate according to its charter is to �be free from both political and commercial influence and answers only to its viewers and listeners.� Is it perfect? No. Is it better than the banality of Sky or Fox and their conservative ideology? Yes, by far.

Sky as super network

In essence, Sky is a would-be super-network stretching towards every venue. Its latest move in the broadcasting market, according to a Reuters/Yahoo article, is �BSkyB�s purchase of a 17.9 percent stake in commercial broadcaster ITV . . . currently being examined by Ofcom. Cable operator NTL, which is set to rebrand itself as Virgin Media, had considered making a bid for ITV, a move that was effectively blocked when rival BSkyB bought the stake.

�NTL�s leading shareholder, Richard Branson, said this week he would fight the BSkyB move. �The Murdoch Empire was, I think, absolutely terrified at the idea of Virgin taking over, because we would have given Sky some real competition . . . '� So there�s Murdoch calling the kettle black.

As to Ofcom, let�s hope it doesn�t go the way of our FCC, particularly during the reign of Michael Powell. FCC regulations were relaxed on the purchase of stations by media empires like Rupert�s, and this ended invariably in the sole rule of point of view in any given market. Ofcom at this time does not seem to share that problem.

Ofcom, according to James

Yet, James on his soapbox said �Ofcom should operate with a strong and undiluted bias against regulation because this would allow more innovation . . . We often think of broadcasting as a special case.� It is special as I said earlier. But James continues, �Too much regulation resulted in a reduction in human freedom, a corrosion of enterprise and all at a huge cost, estimated in the UK at around 10 to 12 percent of GDP.� Rhetoric as empty as his programming.

I don�t see Murdoch�s empire as a force for human freedom, but rather a potent reactionary force. In England, the Murdochs were censoring the US-imported Simpsons' episodes of any shadow of sexual or drug mention -- to the point where the shows were senseless and viewers complained. That is until the original cuts were returned to the air. As to the loss of GDP from Murdoch TV and reactionary print, I think the UK and America can live with it, quite freely.

So whom do you trust?

Do you trust unregulated big biz? Do you trust government regulation in the absolute? Do you trust stations with religious agendas? Do you trust the money-begging prophets? Do you trust none of them? That�s probably a good start. Do you trust what you recognize as quality and distrust what looks like drivel? That�s an even better start.

Yet one man�s quality is another�s poison, and versa visa. So we have a media quagmire: those tugging for truth, art and funding for quality and educational programming and others for endless sports, low-brow entertainment, neoncon agit-prop, a political Jesus and unchecked profit.

You pays your money, you takes your chances. Step right up. It�s the greatest show on earth. And perhaps it�s the tension between the forces of government, independent stations, religious zealots, conglomerates and indiscriminate viewing that makes for the present movie of our lives. We�ll find enough megalomaniacs in each sector to make the movie more than interesting, hellacious or wonderful as the case may be.

Of late, we�ve seen more of the hellacious than the wonderful. We�ve also seen a yearning for the �golden age� of television as expressed in Good Night and Good Luck, which is really what it�s all about, the right�s proclivity to oppress and the left�s passionate protest for the real-life freedoms and protections of our Constitution.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York City. Reach him at

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