“Rupert Murdoch is the most dangerous man in the world”.
So says Ted Turner, American media mogul and founder of cable news channel CNN. Certainly Murdoch is one of the most powerful and influential, with a global media corporation spanning Australia, the UK and US.
With a net worth of approximately $7.4 billion, Rupert Murdoch has repeatedly featured in Forbes Magazine’s 400 richest men in America (currently #37). Now 80, he has come a long way since his school days at Geelong Grammar School. A self-made billionaire, he inherited his first newspaper at age 23 and has subsequently developed the News Corporation media empire he owns today. Wealth alone brings a certain amount of power, and perhaps this is part of the reason for Turner’s comment above. However it is not only Murdoch’s fortune that makes him so very powerful.
With control over numerous newspapers in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US, Murdoch has considerable influence over the way news and events are perceived by the reading public. Any one newspaper has this capacity, however with Murdoch’s control over multiple publications across multiple countries, his influence in this way is great indeed. Through his papers’ news reportage and their editorial and opinion pages, he has significant power to influence perceptions. He has been known to exercise this influence too.
He has used this influence to support various political leaders in Australia and the UK over the years. In Australia Murdoch supported John McEwen (leader of the then Australian Country Party) and later Gough Whitlam and the Australian Labour Party. In the UK, Murdoch was a strong supporter of Margaret Thatcher.
Murdoch has even had a strong influence on the news industry itself. He is credited by British newspaper The Economist with “inventing the modern tabloid” as he developed a particular approach with his papers. He directed them to increase sports and scandal coverage and adopt eye-catching headlines. This is a pattern modern tabloid readers now take for granted the world over.
Despite his power and influence, or perhaps because of it, Murdoch’s media empire has not avoided controversy. Most recently, his News of the World newspaper in the UK was the source of a large-scale phone-hacking scandal that saw several of the paper’s top executives lose their jobs as a parliamentary enquiry ensued. The scandal involved allegations that the newspaper had illegally “tapped” into a number of celebrities’ voicemail accounts.
At the same time there were allegations and suggestions that Murdoch’s company had too much influence over British politics. Indeed, British Opposition leader Ed Milibrand called for Murdoch’s media empire to be broken up, claiming he did in fact have “too much power over British public life”.
Perhaps this fully explains why Ted Turner believes Murdoch is not just powerful and influential, but dangerous. But on the whole, has his use of power been good, bad or monstrous? Have the outcomes of his empire building and media control been for good, or for ill?
This is a very tough question to answer. Certainly in the most recent controversy and scandal, there has been the hint of some level of corruption within his organisation, if not with the man himself. In the phone hacking scandal, celebrities unwittingly had their privacy breached. As the organisation’s leader, Murdoch must take some level of responsibility for this even if he wasn’t involved.
And yet, Murdoch’s wealth and influence has undoubtedly had some positive influences too. Most obviously he heads an organisation that provides employment for thousands of people in many countries. As a self-made billionaire he is an example to others of what can be achieved.
To be fair this writer places Rupert Murdoch in the category of a “good” leader, but reserves the right to reassess his fitness for this category as time progresses and as more details of the phone hacking scandal, and its fallout, comes to light.