News Internationals feet of clay

Rupert-Murdochparliament-testimony Watching Rupert Murdoch stumbling his way through a parliamentary select committee this week – an event enlarged by pies and punches thrown I was reminded of the Bible story of the king's nightmare – the gold statue which turns out to have feet of clay  – the whole statue is knocked down by a stone that comes from nowhere. There's a lot in the book of Daniel about images and their fragility.  Murdoch has done well for an Australian newspaper man – he's been an architect of global satellite television. He has acquired newspaper titles from all over the world and tucked them under his arm. Even though their revenues were miniscule and shrinking compared with the TV revenues it bought him influence with the political establishment. Which is a game we have accepted for decades – media owners are powerful and we have to live with that knowledge.  Murdoch was desperate to acquire B Sky B to keep up with the global media arms race. He can't compete with the US television giants unless he does. Which is why he has made such strenuous efforts to come clean – to explain himself. For the next chapter he needs a vehicle big enough to continue world domination. I really believe him. And I don't have to mistrust his motives. There's no shame in wanting to be the biggest media owner in the world. Its a perfectly valid ambition.

But we come back to the feet of clay. A culture of paying off policement, intimidating politicians, and of course the bugging. Did Murdoch know about it? Probably not. But what he has to demonstrate is that he and his organisation are fit for global dominance. If the gold head of the statue are so far from the rest of the body that he has no way of knowing how low some of his staff are prepared to sink to get a good news story – then who can trust him to take a big step up with BSkyB. The answer is Not now. And watching this 80 year old pause to catch his thoughts I thought I perceived his confusion. Should I look down at sort out my feet by closing the News of the World, by firing a couple of reporters when they go to jail (but quietly paying their legal costs – because I feel a sense of responsibility?) or do I look up and work out how I can make my organisation even bigger? Rupert isn't going anywhere.

I once asked the theologian Walter Wink (author of a trilogy on managing the powers)  what he would say if Rupert Murdoch asked him how to bring News International under obedience to Christ. His reply was entirely couched in private and personal terms to Rupert Murdoch. When we badly need a corporate response. We have banks which are too big to fail. Nation states which are unaccountable. Bigger means badder – more corrupt. Western religion post reformation and particularly post 2 world wars is personal and privatised. Only in the last few years have we seen a spring where religion can ask questions in the public square without being shouted down. But accountability needs to be corporate. Which is why the Metropolitan police are leaderless and News International could very soon be. Governance must be of the whole body and it must be good, not expedient or merely legal. Because we all have feet of clay.








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