Thursday, June 12, 2014

Breaking News: Sex, Lies and the Murdoch Succession, by Paul Barry

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Paul Barry's brilliant Breaking News shows how the Murdoch media empire called the shots for a long time, installing prime ministers and taking down political foes, but reality and the truth eventually caught up with it. Essential reading for anyone interested in the power of media over democracy.

English born Paul Barry has made quite a career for himself as a journalist, author of books on key media figures and as presenter of ABC's Media Watch. His great skill is to distill a lot of information in an easily digestible and even entertaining fashion. He never seems to write a dull page. Breaking News is a perfect example of this: every page leaves you gobsmacked. There is so much scandal, abuse of power, illegality, irresponsibilty, arrogance and downright callousness within its pages that it leaves you reeling in disbelief.

Everyone knows about the News of the World hacking scandal and Rupert Murdoch's subsequent fronting at the Leverson inquiry to answer questions from British MPs. Breaking News establishes the story in a rather intriguing way. Firstly, it provides a speeded up history of Rupert Murdoch's business empire, with a biography of Rupert himself. The second part gives brief biographies of the three Murdoch children from Rupert's second marriage, Lachlan, Elizabeth and James. Lastly (and this forms the most substantial part of the book) the News of the World hacking scandal is chronicled in full.

The whole affair is, of course, a train wreck from start to finish, one that is still being played out in the courts. The amazing thing is the sheer arrogance of the journalists involved who thought nothing of breaking the law to get a good story and keep their masters happy. Barry does substantial primary research himself, and claims to have interviewed 100 people for the book. The culture that emerges within News Limited is one where it was assumed you could get yourself into all sorts of legal trouble and it didn't matter, because it was understood you'd be bailed out by the company. No one was under any illusion about what they were doing.

Perhaps worse than the horrible journalism, if you could call it that, were the close relationships built up between the tabloid editors, such as Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, and British prime ministers. Apparently Rupert Murdoch thought that it was he who was running England, and he was perhaps in part right. The tales of Rebekah Brooks deciding to take it out on various British MPs with relentlessly aggressive media campaigns are sickening. As we all know, Andy Coulson went to work in Tony Blair's office after working for Murdoch. British political parties had to effectively govern jointly with Rupert Murdoch's News Limited. Get him offside and he'd use his newspapers to full effect to bring you down. As the book notes, The Sun had always picked election winners since the early seventies.

The epilogue of Breaking News looks at possible successors to Rupert Murdoch, if he should ever step down or even die: he claims to be intent on living to 100, at the very least. It's Elizabeth who appears the most capable, but because she is a woman, and Rupert is old fashioned in his views of women, she's not a favourite. Lachlan quit the business. (Wendi Deng's two daughters have been dealt out of any succession plan.) That leaves James, but insiders say he is not a patch on his father. He's constantly described as someone who thinks that he's smarter than he actually is.

Breaking News makes for important reading. It takes you inside the media sausage factory and of course its shocking to see what goes into the sausages. If you want to know how much of our politics and opinions are shaped by this race-to-the-bottom journalism, then this book is an absolute must. Highly recommended!

Breaking News: Sex, Lies and the Murdoch Succession, by Paul Barry. Published by Allen and Unwin. ISBN:  9781741759785  RRP: $39.99

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