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Dunsmore: The Murdoch Legacy

07/15/11 7:55AM By Barrie Dunsmore
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(HOST) The scandal involving Rupert Murdoch's media holdings in Britain has reached the highest levels of the British government, the London police and his top national newspapers. And as commentator and veteran ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore tells us this morning , the scandal has implications that go beyond Great Britain.

(DUNSMORE) Rupert Murdoch went from inheriting two small newspapers in Australia to becoming the head of the conglomerate News Corporation - which has annual revenues of $33 billion. News Corporation is now second only to the Disney company as the worlds largest media and entertainment empire. Murdoch's holdings in this country include the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, DirecTV and the FOX television network which includes FOX News.

Murdoch is a controversial figure and no stranger to scandals. But until very recently his extraordinary position of power, especially in Britain, has been unassailable. That may no longer be so.

The immediate cause for the current troubles were revelations that employees of Murdoch's popular Sunday tabloid, The News of the World, had hacked into the private telephone communications of a young girl who had just been murdered. They had also apparently tapped the phones of families of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Following previous allegations of illegal eavesdropping on the phones of members of the Royal Family - as well as those of a number of prominent British celebrities - that was the last straw.

In the mudslinging that has followed, there have been accusations that policemen responsible for Royal security had taken Murdoch's newspapers' bribes and others were on the payroll as tipsters and facilitators. And if that's not enough Andy Coulson, former spokesman for the current British prime minister and previously the editor of the News of the World, was arrested in his London home last week and taken off to jail.

The Murdoch family's immediate response has been to shut down the News of the World. And this week they have withdrawn their $12 billion bid to take over British Sky Broadcasting, a lucrative satellite TV operation.

Since Murdoch made his move into British newspapers in the mid-eighties, he has been a major player in media and politics. First he broke the newspaper trade unions while cheering on Margaret Thatcher's violent suppression of the coal miners. He later helped Tony Blair get elected and recently supported the election of conservative Prime Minister David Cameron. He became a welcome weekend guest at the homes of all the prime ministers who had reason to court his favor and fear his wrath. But this week, Murdoch's friends in high places deserted him.

Murdoch's legacy will be defined by his quest for power- and his apparent willingness to do anything to achieve it. This ruthlessness permeates Murdoch's corporate culture, wherever he operates. Here in America, FOX News shows little regard for facts and consistently gives hours of air time and amplification to the most extreme voices. Fox News pseudo-populism makes huge profits but has degraded cable television news, if not all news media and has contributed greatly to the poisonous partisanship that has infected the American political system. It's therefore notable that this week some Democrats and Republicans in Congress have called for investigations into what Murdoch's people may have been up to in this country.
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