Thursday, 22 April 2010

War Declared: The Sun Invades the Independent...

Cleggmania is responsible for many thing, including panic in the ranks of the Tory Party's election advisers, as evidenced in the concerted attacks by the Tory press on Clegg today.

And Cleggmania also appears to have had an explosive effect on the Murdoch empire. This report  from Michael White in the Guardian reveals that young James Murdoch and Murdoch executive Rebekah Wade, blasted their way into the HQ of the Independent newspaper and bent the ear of editorial executive Simon Kellner. Kellner, the Independent editor-in-chief, has been "guilty" of running adverts in his paper saying that "Murdoch won't decide the election. You will".

The crime in question is that newspapers have a little "tradition" of not directly attacking each other. So rich newspaper magnates just don't attack other rich newspaper magnates. It's just not done, and young James was apoplectic in his defence precedence and politesse.

Behind all of this is the rise of Clegg, the man who was supposed to provide the ballast in the real battle between Brown and Cameron. The Sun in particular, and the Murdoch empire in general, has been plugging Cameron as the only choice for next PM and consistently dissing Brown as yesterday's man. But the rise of Clegg has been muddying the waters and threatening the Sun's favourite with, at worst, a hung Parliament and maybe even a straight defeat.

But there is an even bigger question behind the even that, and it is this: why on Earth should there be an agreement that newspapers don't attack each other? How can that be consistent with a free press? The vast majority of the press in the UK is aligned with the right wing parties, in particular the Tory Party. Murdoch inteferes in UK politics although he is not a UK citizen. The Daily mail is owned by the Rothermere family, the previous Lord Rothermere loved nothing more than to sit in his French Chateau while dictating his "daily dose of fear" to Daily Mail editors and executives: Europe the enemy but also the home to the noble Lord.. Gordon Brown has suffered many times the treatment meted out to Clegg today. Every prominent Labour politician is a potential target for the vitriol spewed by the Tory press, foreign owned or British owned.

Are other papers supposed to stay quiet on these issues?  If the effect of the press is to distort the political and social dicourse, by skewing coverage, misleading emphasis or downright lying, are other news organisations compelled to comply with some "gentleman's agreement" that these matters are somehow subject to newsman's omerta? Not to be mentioned? Not to be revealed to the gaze of the voters?

The most shocking thing about the Sun's invasion of the Independent is not the physical or psychological hurt to the fabric of the Independent newspaper. It's the blithe assumption on Murdoch's behalf that such an act of violence to a fellow newspaper executive was justifiable on any respectable moral or ethical grounds.

Or maybe Mr Murdoch wasn't thinking about ethics or morals? Maybe he was worried about the power and influence of his once dominant news empire......

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