Rupert Murdoch. Something needs to be said about this man who can be named the true media mogul of this day. If any businessman, Sri Lankan or otherwise, intends owning media, he would want to follow in the footsteps of this Australian; or should one really!

Today, the media at large describe him as a pariah and apology after apology in the newspapers for the actions of one of his papers in the UK is not getting him anywhere. His Chief Executive Officer is currently in Police custody and ‘News of the World’ that he had bought into is shut down, all because this newspaper crossed the line. The scandal over Rupert Murdoch’s ‘News of the World’ tabloid has exploded across London, with the possibility that reporters and investigators for the paper hacked into the phones of victims of 7/7 – the so-called London bus bombings of 7 July 2005, in which terrorists targeted the city’s bus and subway systems which killed 52 people.

Outrage has spread since the original accusation that ‘News of the World’ hacked the cell phone of MillyDowler, a 13-year-old girl who disappeared in March 2002. Her remains were found southwest of London six months later and a man was convicted this spring of killing her. Police are now trying to determine whether reporters not only listened to the teenager’s voicemail, but deleted voicemail messages – leading her parents to believe she was still alive – and potentially obstructing the Police investigation into her disappearance.

Murdoch, under pressure to fire the paper’s Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks, issued a statement saying the hacking, if proved, was “deplorable and unacceptable”. But he said he stands by Brooks. Even actor Hugh Grant said he had been called by Police. The kind of intrusion that apparently happened in the Millie Dowler case, he told the BBC, was routine for celebrities: “So many of the victims of phone hacking were rich or famous or whatever… but these stories do hit people in the gut.”

There is no doubt that the media is big business even when it is losing money. In fact I was surprised to learn from the various media reports in the last few days that many of Murdoch’s newspapers were bleeding, but he yet kept them going. For what and why, we would only know in the days to come. Funnily enough, we see the media themselves reporting that Scotland Yard and the highest of British politicos are tangled in this business. It is frightening to think where it would all end.

Be that as it may, what lessons can we learn from a media point of view? For one, I believe that media owners and those sitting at the top of editorials should figure out this old adage which is attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool some of the people all the time and all of the people some of the time, but not all the people all of the time.”

I believe that what happened to ‘News of the World’ was that it got enmeshed in a type of journalism that was pushing the boundaries of tolerance in the eyes of the British people. From tabloid journalism of stalking celebrities, it went on to actually stalking the common man. Today’s investigations reveal that it had hacked into telephone conversations and SMSes of over 4,000 people and this is where it all went horribly wrong. Paparazzi on the top of the pyramid maybe entertainment for the proletariat, but when the media starts playing big brother to the common man, in paparazzi fashion with today’s technology, it is not acceptable.

It is ironic that Rupert Murdoch, whose empire was built on the millions of people who subscribed to his news, is now facing their wrath. The sensationalism, within which he created his own circus, has now become his worst enemy. One could call this retribution, the unstoppable punishment of human presumption – Nemesis.

What lessons can be learned from this? In Sri Lanka the laws and ethics governing the media are very fluid. In actual fact, being able to control a newsroom can be power. But on the other hand, controlling the media is also a double-edged sword which can cut both ways.

Objective media and news reporting in its true form is one of the pillars of democracy – the 4th estate as we call it. However, when we cross the line into subjective journalism, where the universal principle of being fair, balanced and accurate is ignored, even if the law cannot get us, natural justice will catch up to turn the entire system against us.

Source : Daily FT (

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