Saturday, November 24, 2007

Media barons speak

The House of Lords Communications Committee has just released minutes of meetings that they held in the US with media proprietors, editors, pundits, and blogger(s) in September. The main nuggets from the minutes are reflected in this BBC story but it's worth dwelling on a couple of points.

First, in the same discussion where Rupert Murdoch states frankly that he sets the editorial line of The Sun and the News of the World but is constrained from doing so with The Times, he makes the same distinction between the New York Post (where he does set the line) and the Wall Street Journal -- which at that point he had just about acquired. He's clearly chomping at the bit to take control of the Journal, but lest there be any doubt over the coming election season as to where a NY Post editorial came from, now we know.

He was also fairly lacerating about Sky News, although his proposed solution of making it more like Fox News is alarming --

He believed that Sky News would be more popular if it were more like the Fox News Channel. Then it would be “a proper alternative to the BBC”. One of the reasons that it is not a proper alternative to the BBC is that no broadcaster or journalist in the UK knows any different. Mr Murdoch stated that Sky News could become more like Fox without a change to the impartiality rules in the UK. For example Sky had not yet made the presentational progress that Fox News had.

The thing is -- he has a point. Particularly when one is stuck in a furrin hotel room with Sky News as one of the few TV options, the sparseness of its rolling news format becomes apparent. The tenth go-round of the latest Maddy/Margate-type story is no more enlightening than the first. But of course what Murdoch wants is these same stories -- all the better to keep the masses distracted -- but blended in with a steady stream of bloviators working from one political/cultural "outrage" to the next, with outrage being defined as something not in line with the Murdoch political agenda.

Speaking of Fox News, the committee also spoke to Roger Ailes. It was mostly the usual shite but there is his account of the 2000 presidential election --

Just before the 2000 presidential election they ran a story that they knew would damage George W Bush’s campaign. The Bush campaign even asked them to hold the story. They were the only news organisation to get hold of the story (which related to Bush having been caught driving under the influence of alcohol 16 years previously). Therefore they decided it was news worthy and ran it. Following their coverage Bush dropped by five points and Ailes believed that Fox News was probably responsible for the run off in Florida.

In such a close election, any one thing can be picked out as decisive. And this particular claim of Ailes has been around the block before. One thing is for sure: if George Bush was so ungrateful to Fox News for bringing him within a few hundred votes of losing in 2000, he has a strange way of showing it.

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