April 24, 2012

The Guardian | The New York Times | The Leveson Inquiry
James Murdoch’s six-hour testimony today before the British parliament’s Leveson inquiry is a gripping microdrama. Attorney Robert Jay, who is questioning Murdoch, flops himself over a lectern and delivers each question as if it had just occurred to him, raising his eyebrows at the end of most inquiries as if to encourage Murdoch to come clean. Jay is lightly bearded, wears ridiculous eyeglasses and looks rumpled. Murdoch replies in a middle-of-the-Atlantic accent — American flat vowels with British inflections. He’s in a sharp, well-fitting suit and so far appears unflapped by Jay’s surgical questioning. So far, high points have included:

• Murdoch’s account of a meeting with David Cameron, now the British prime minister and then a Conservative Party candidate, at which Murdoch informed Cameron that The Sun was going to switch its support to the Tories from Labour; during this time News Corp. was seeking to get regulatory approval to buy all of British broadcaster BSkyB (it later dropped the bid).

• A Murdoch-Jay exchange about the Murdochs’ influence on politicians. Murdoch told him the view of an all-powerful media doesn’t exist anymore. “I’m not interested in reality,” Jay told Murdoch to much laughter from the room. The important point, he said, was whether politicians believed Murdoch had power over their careers.

• Murdoch’s explanation of an incident at which he surprised staff at the rival Independent, which had been running billboards saying “Rupert Murdoch won’t decide this election.” Murdoch reportedly swore at the paper’s editor, Simon Kelner.

(Wasn’t this inquiry about phone-hacking at some point?)

Journalists live-tweeting the hearing include David Folkenflik, Ravi Somaiya and Michael Wolff. Here’s a Twitter list of Guardian journalists watching and providing a lot of context. And you can read Murdoch’s prepared testimony as published on the Leveson website. Highlights include his views on business and the business of news:

  • Businesses often overestimate satisfaction with the status quo. My philosophy is the opposite.
  • The way companies do business is important. I have always believed that enterprise has a role to play in society.
  • I believe the titles should always seek to approach issues on behalf of readers, and news coverage should be driven by a desire to inform readers of the facts and provide them with context and insight. An editor may approach a news story with a view to how readers may feel about it, and that may determine how they structure the coverage, but should not colour the basic reporting of the facts.
  • I have long held the belief that the rise of nearly ubiquitous digital connectivity, the mass adoption of digital equipment used for creating and consuming news, information and entertainment, and new forms of aggregating and reaching mass audiences, such as multi-channel television platforms and social media like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, render it folly to believe that any individual or organisation could either dominate or control the news.
  • I believe we have already entered an era of what will become ultimate plurality where the consumer is ever increasingly empowered and in control. Put simply, the disappearance of boundaries between formerly distinct sections of the media – such as newspapers, television news, scripted and reality productions, blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, radio and user generated video – means that they all now coexist and compete for attention, interaction and engagement on a single, collapsed digital plane. This has profound implications for the work and reflections of this Inquiry.

Murdoch also rehashes what he knew and when he knew it about News of the World phone hacking.

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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