Thursday, July 7, 2016

The silence is deafening

There seemed to be almost an eerie silence about a move which could have a profound impact on the Irish media landscape last week.

In the furore which surrounded Brexit, uncertainty over the Irish border, and the Chilcot Inquiry into Tony Blair’s Iraq war, few seemed to notice that global media baron Rupert Murdoch decided to significantly increase his interest in the Irish market.

His News Corporation has decided to buy Belfast’s radio-focused Wireless Group in a £220 million (€257m) deal. It has massive implications for media ownership, and control, in Ireland and should really open up a debate about who controls our mainstream media.

Wireless owns seven radio stations on the island of Ireland, six in the Republic, and runs an advertising sales house in Dublin.

Why is this significant?  
The Sun: actively campaigned for a Brexit vote
 Well, Rupert Murdoch already owns The Sun, The Times, and The Sunday Times, London papers with Irish editions.

Suddenly, Irish media interests are going to be concentrated in even fewer hands and Murdoch will have a greater influence on Irish society.

Rupert, of course, knows a thing or two about influence.

His Fox News channel in the US is known across the globe for its partisan support for the Republican Party. Anyone who thinks differently is ridiculed.

In the UK, according to ‘spindoctor’ Alistair Campbell, Murdoch put undue pressure on Prime Minister Tony Blair to go to war in Iraq in 2003. He offered Blair the full support of his newspapers if he took the deeply unpopular decision.

More recently, his papers were hugely influential in pressing for a Brexit vote in the UK. The Sun tabloid led with the front-page headline, "IT'S BORIS DAY”, on the eve of the referendum.

In the midst of a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment following the vote, The Sun printed the following: "Where the Brex was won: Streets full of Polish shops, kids not speaking English... but Union Jacks now flying high again."

Hardly the best message to convey to the readership of a tabloid at a time of heightened tension, racism, and xenophobic attacks, with many immigrants in Britain reported to be living in fear.

For decades now, Murdoch has been widely known as the “kingmaker” in British politics, so much so that his switch in support from the Conservatives to Blair was seen to be hugely significant in determining the outcome of General Elections.

It’s only a few years since his newspapers were the subject of the Levenson Inquiry, which examined allegations of phone-hacking, corrupt payments, and the perversion of the course of justice.

The allegations led to the closure of The News of the World, Britain’s biggest-selling Sunday newspaper.

Murdoch was so upset by all the allegations hovering over News UK that he reinstated Rebekah Brooks, Chief Executive during the phone-hacking days, to the top job in September of last year.
She resigned at the height of the controversy in 2011.

Brooks may have been cleared of all charges, but some top executives at News Corporaiton could still face corporate criminal charges, and the incidents of phone-hacking occurred under her leadership.

People were shocked to see her return to News International. Media reform campaigners Hacked Off slammed her return last September.

"This could only happen in a dynastic company where normal rules of corporate governance simply do not apply,” said Evan Harris, joint executive of Hacked Off.

One of the most hurtful front pages
in British newspaper history

As a Liverpool fan, I know all about The Sun and how the tabloid could hurt thousands of people by printing vicious lies. All across Merseyside, people still boycott The Sun as a result of an infamous front page in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.

In a nasty front page piece, the tabloid tried to blame the fans for the deaths of 96 people who went to a football match and never came home.

The Sun claimed the survivors hampered the efforts of the (now disgraced) police to rescue the dead and injured, whereas the fans were the true heroes on a truly awful day.

In Ireland, we already know a lot about billionaire  moguls, who wield their power through media interests.

The country’s leading media owner, Denis O’Brien, was accused of “gagging” free speech and even parliamentary privilege when a member of the Dail attempted to raise concerns about his finances last year.

For a few days in 2015, nobody dared to report on what had been said in our national parliament, after questions were raised about his relationship with IBRC, the State-owned bank.

He even forced the deletion of an article by the nation’s favourite satirical website, Waterford Whispers News.

O’Brien is no ordinary billionaire. He’s the chief shareholder in the country’s largest newspaper group, Independent Newspapers, and owns key news stations including Newstalk and Today FM.
He applied for an injunction to restrain broadcasters from reporting about his dealings with IBRC, arguing that it breached his privacy rights.

Because of the injunction, nobody in Ireland could listen to or read about what Catherine Murphy TD said in the Dail about Mr O’Brien for days.

O’Brien, who lives in Malta for tax purposes, owns 20 national and regional newspapers, but still feels a need to silence those who dare to question his dealings.

In May of this year, it emerged that he had initiated legal proceedings against the former Fianna Fail TD for Galway East, Colm Keaveney.

He’s suing the former TD for defamation arising from a speech by Mr Keaveney which was circulated to a public relations firm.

Referring to a politician as a
"poisonous snake" ... a day's work
at Rupert Murdoch's tabloid.
Let’s not forget that financial dealings involving Mr O’Brien were investigated by the Moriarty Tribunal, which cost the State in excess of €50 million.

It found that Mr O’Brien made payments to former Minister Michael Lowry (FG) which amounted to £447,000 Sterling (€521,000 in today’s money).

As Minister for Communications, Lowry awarded the State’s second mobile phone contract to Mr O’Brien. It was the start of his global media empire.

Given Mr Murdoch’s tendency to influence politicians and Mr O’Brien’s propensity to take legal action against those who question his financial dealings – even in the national parliament – it’s important to ask whether their media empires are good for Irish society.

Yet nobody seemed to be prepared to ask those questions when Mr Murdoch decided to expand his influence in the Republic of Ireland last week.


  1. Well said. In which country are you hoping to work though? BTW, it's more accurate to say 'Britain's border in Ireland' rather than the Irish border, as if it were something Irish people had created. See Cyprus, Palestine and India for more examples of partition.

  2. Good point. It is becoming increasingly difficult for experienced journalists such as myself to secure full-time work.

    But, at the same time, you cannot go through life "selling your soul" to organisations you have issues with.

    A journalist's role is surely to seek the truth, not to manipulate it, and to question those in authority.

  3. Cause for intervention by the monopolies commission ?
    Many people only give a glance to mainstream media. Even RTE and across the pond, the BBC are seriously biased.
    More online news please, it is the only place to find the truth, though even here, we have to be selective about what we believe.
    More news please about fraud, conspiracy, land theft and general injustice. Cops, solicitors, barristers, judges, land registry are all corrupt and in collusion to steal whatever they can. The result, poverty, stress, ruined childhoods and death.

  4. I would subscribe to an online publication which tackles the truth with real issues.

    1. Yes, many people have said that Ireland needs such a publication.

  5. Very good article. Have a read of my blog too. It's about current issues and Irish issues too. I'm no journalist but I do have my opinions.

  6. Today Fm tried to imply that some of the Irish stations were a bonus/add on part of Murdoch's British acquisitions

  7. Today Fm tried to imply that some of the Irish stations were a bonus/add on part of Murdoch's British acquisitions

  8. Let him have it, mainstream Media is becoming irrelevant. compare fox Prime Time viewing rates to alternatives online news outlets. Anyone with half a brain doesn't take mainstream Media seriously anymore...

  9. You would think Murdoch already owned the way they never question UK and US foreign policy relating to the middle east and just act as stenographers for them instead..