Thursday, August 04, 2011

Rupert Murdoch: chip off the old block

The phone hacking scandal that continues to dog Rupert Murdoch has its importance in exposing how a major corporation can violate bourgeois ethics for commercial gain.

However, there is a larger issue in respect of the monopoly capitalist media and its ability to shape and direct the political agenda, even down to ensuring the outcome of bourgeois elections.

Rupert Murdoch sees himself as the “king maker” in a number of advanced capitalist countries including the US, Britain and Australia.

But he has had to eat humble pie because of the phone hacking revelations, including evoking the ethical standards of his parents, Sir Keith Murdoch and Dame Elisabeth Murdoch in a private meeting with the parents of murdered British schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

Murdoch told Bob and Sally Dowler and their daughter Gemma that the News of the World's hacking into Milly's voicemail after she went missing in 2002 betrayed the values of his father, a pioneering journalist and editor, and his mother, the 102-year-old philanthropist.

However, the following excerpt from Duncan Clarke’s 1962 Communist Party of Australia 50-page booklet Meet the Press shows that Sir Keith indeed pioneered much of what has become the legacy of News Limited.

Clarke was at the time a copy boy on Sir Keith’s Melbourne “Herald”. He was later editor of the Victorian Branch of the CPA’s paper “The Guardian”, and following the reconstitution of the CPA in 1964 after it had succumbed to revisionism, became the editor of the CPA (M-L)’s paper “Vanguard”.


(Front cover of Duncan Clarke's "Meet the Press", showing Melbourne wharfies during the wharf dispute of 1956. They protested inside and outside of the Melbourne "Herald" offices against monopoly capitalist press distortions of their case, and forced Murdoch to publish a statement issued by their union.)

The Prime Minister said “Yes, Sir!”

As a copy boy in the Melbourne “Herald” I received my first lesson in the power of the monopoly press, and the “classroom” was the office itself of Australia’s biggest press lord, Sir Keith Murdoch.

The year was 1935. I was seated in the Boys’ Room on a long form, facing a row of bells. I was at the head of the form and it was my turn to answer the next call. Sammy Sampson, our boss, was reading proofs at his desk and young Jimmy Aldridge, the now famous author, was sitting in the tube room, where telegrams were received from Russell Street Post Office through an air tube. Waiting for a “call” was always exciting business. If it came from the Chief of Staff you never knew where you would finish up – in the Stock Exchange, at the scene of a murder, on a ship or at the airport.

A bell rang and up flew the shutter. It was from the Big Boss himself.

“Hurry,” said Sammy, without looking up from his proofs. He knew every bell by its sound.

In a flash I was at the door of the Managing Director and, without knocking, entered.

Murdoch had two secretaries in those days. Miss Demello did all his personal and confidential typing, and Mr Ian McDonald, who later became a senior executive of the Newsprint Mills in Tasmania, was the first secretary, as it were. They occupied an ante-office through which you had to pass to get into the inner sanctum. When I entered, both McDonald and Miss Demello appeared to be in a flurry. I could hear Murdoch shouting, and the door to his office was open. Murdoch shouted quite a lot, despite his apparent shyness. He always spoke very loudly into a phone.

I remember the scene well. I stood there for some seconds, waiting for instructions. Murdoch was shouting: “Get Lyons down here – at once. Tell him I want to see him.”

He seemed angry.

Miss Demello called me over and in hushed tones said: “Sir Keith wants his afternoon tea. You had better get two cups as the Prime Minister will be here soon…”

So off I went to get afternoon tea for Sir Keith and the Prime Minister.

Sir Keith's afternoon tea came from his private dining-room which, in those days, was looked after by a kindly woman cook. Whenever we went up there she would give us hot scones with loads of butter on them, or expensive cake and a cup of tea or a drink of cordial. I told her what was required, and added that Sir Keith's guest for afternoon tea would be no less a person than the Prime Minister.

"Oh, goodness," she said. "I had better get the best cups out." She followed me half way down the stairs, telling me to be very careful.

Well, by the time it took this dear old soul to prepare the cakes and tea and for me to go down two flights of stairs, Joseph Aloysius Lyons, Prime Minister of Australia, was in the office of his boss.

(Lyons pretending to listen to Brisbane wharfies - if only they'd seen his craven behaviour in front of Sir Keith!)

Miss Demello signalled me through Sir Keith's door. Murdoch '"was still shouting and J. A. Lyons was standing before the desk. I put the tea down on the big desk and went out through the door. As I went through it I turned and there, with his hat in his hand, like a man seeking a job, stood the Prime Minister before Murdoch's desk.

As I shut the door, I heard the leader of the nation say: "Yes, sir." Many years later I was to learn that the "Herald" had played a big part in paving the way for Lyons to rat on the Labor Party and become leader of the United Australia Party, the forerunner of the Liberal Party. (My own father, who was one of Sir Keith's confidants, was drawn into this job).

When the bribes and the negotiations - part of them was a pension of 500 pounds for Dame Enid - were over, and Lyons made his decision, Murdoch assumed personal control of the turncoat.

It was during Lyons' term of office that Keith Murdoch achieved one of his dearest ambitions - to become a Knight of the Realm. The incident I have quoted illustrates, in perhaps a specially vivid way, the grip ALWAYS held by the monopoly Press over parliaments and governments.

The big, mass circulation, daily newspapers are the main instruments of propaganda of monopoly capital. It is through them that monopoly capital maintains a mass, daily contact with the people. From the newspapers branch the national weeklies, specialised magazines, book printing houses, the radio stations, and now, television.

Monopoly capital guards its big daily newspaper chains jealously.

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