A surprising investigation into the operations of British tabloid News of the World recently revealed that the paper has been obtaining stories illegally. The tabloid is owned by News Corporation, the world’s second largest media conglomerate better known in Canada for owning Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, the corporation is run by media baron Rupert Murdoch.
Investigations running from 2005-2007 revealed that employees of News of the World and some other tabloids owned by News Corp. routinely used phone hacking to access the voicemails of various public figures including the royal family, actors and models. Subsequent investigations in 2011 led to the discovery that reporters had also been accessing voicemail accounts belonging to the families of murder victims and people involved in terrorist attacks.
Public outrage at these findings led to several papers, including news of the world, closing, as well as numerous editors being fired. There was little impact at the corporate level however, as News Corp. continues to operate unchanged and Rupert Murdoch has continued to deny any knowledge of the illegal activities of papers he owns.
Despite Murdoch’s denial, reports from current and former employees of some of the tabloids involved indicate that phone hacking wasn’t some isolated or secretive affair but that is was actively encouraged by a few high ranking employees and that knowledge of it was so common that even “the office cat knew.” In addition to this, a former minister of British parliament has claimed that Murdoch used his influence to have messages delivered to Prime Minister Gordon Brown urging him to slow down the investigation into the phone hacking.
While not part of any official investigation these pieces of information are alarming given that they come from a company that not only owns a tremendous number of media outlets but is apparently not afraid to show blatant bias, as a growing number believe Fox News to do, or even use illegal methods to try and obtain information for stories.
This brings up serious concerns about the ethics employed in the numerous media agencies owned by Murdoch and to a lesser extent the ethics employed by print journalists around the world. There has been heated debate about the best way to ensure similar situations do not occur again and while many blame Murdoch for creating a unique atmosphere of ruthless competitiveness within an amoral media corporation the British government has still deigned it necessary to launch two enquiries into media ethics and standards.
The British government is not the only one concerned about the behaviour of Murdoch’s companies. Across the globe honest journalists are speaking up, and they are angry. Many consider these illegal actions to be disgraceful. Professor Karl Grossman, who teaches journalism at the State University of New York College, has accused Murdoch of “making a travesty of what journalism is supposed to be about.”
Regardless of the backlash over these illegal actions, or the closure of a few papers Murdoch’s media empire continues on relatively unscathed as one of the largest in the world