Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Rumours of influence peddling become a police matter

"Hey mate. Got a minute? I just want a quick word." You can imagine the scenario. A senior newspaper editor gets the attention of a politician who is involved in deciding the future direction of a part of the media. The editor's company has a financial interest in that sector of the industry. So the editor offers to support the politician if the politician supports a policy direction favourable to the newspaper. Never heard of it? Neither had I, until this morning. But I had heard views expressed that would encompass such a scenario. In fact, I've expressed them myself. But I never expected the airing of the rumour to be followed so closely by mentions in the press of a police investigation.

It started on Monday, when the ABC's The Drum website published an excerpt from a letter by New York University academic and regular media commentator Jay Rosen. In the column, he neglected to pull his punches saying, among other things:
News Corp is not a news company at all but a global media empire that employs its newspapers - and in the United States, Fox News - as a lobbying arm and intimidation machine. The logic of holding these "press" properties is to wield influence on behalf of the (much bigger and more profitable) media business and also to satisfy Murdoch's own power urges or, in the case of Australia, his patrimonial legends.
News Corp is the parent company, based in the US, of News Ltd. Rupert Murdoch is the chairman of News Corp. Another subsidiary, News International, is currently embroiled in the hacking scandal in the UK that caused the closure of the News of the World.

Anyway, the fat hit the fire in a sense today when rival publisher Fairfax published a news story by security editor Dylan Welch which details alleged discussions of a deal between a Nationals Party senator and News Ltd. The News Ltd editor apparently took the Nationals senator, Bill O'Chee, out to dinner in Brisbane, in 1998, in order to get him to support a measure favourable to News Ltd's interests. You can read the whole story by following the link. Fairfax editors have let the story slip down the roster on their website this morning, evidence that other news is considered more important, or less controversial. By lunchtime it may disappear entirely. And oddly, when I went to search for Rosen's The Drum piece it took me a while to locate it. The piece didn't appear under a search for 'jay rosen' on the website, and I had to go outside The Drum and do a search in Google with the terms 'jay rosen' and 'the drum' before I could locate it.

This story could well die quite quickly amid the routine churn of daily news. Nevertheless it's strange that it appeared so soon after Rosen's column was published. It's so easy to concieve of trails of private whispers that are made in the ears of people supposedly working in the public interest. Offers of "help" are given. "Listen mate. You know that inquiry you're in at the moment? Well ..." Too easy mate.

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