News of the World dead, Rupert Murdoch news-model lives on
The news model employed by Rupert Murdoch’s 165-year-old tabloid will live beyond the publication’s recent demise, in papers and TV networks around the world, whether controlled by Murdoch or not. But has the Murdhoch model really rooted in Canada?
"After 168 years, we finally say a sad but very proud farewell to our 7.5m loyal readers," reads the very last front page News of the World headline.
But the now-defunct tabloid doesn’t really have anything to be proud of, does it?
They intercepted the voicemail messages of murder victims and tapped the phones of fallen soldiers in Afghanistan and maybe even the families of 9/11 victims.
Police arrested former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks for her involvement in the phone hacking scandal and for alleged illegal payments to police officers, The Telegraph reported Sunday.
All this from a paper made successful not because of hard news or real public interest reporting, but from gossip and scandals.
So unrelenting is Rupert Murdoch's news model that even Canada, while not yet conquered by Murdoch himself, shows signs of adopting this poisonous method, one that prizes celebrity gossip and sex scandals above real news.
"There's nothing particularly special about Canadians that make us immune from the Murdoch model," said David Beers, founding editor of The Tyee, calling the model "a mixture of salacious gossip-mongering and positioning the reader as the victim of one supposed outrage after another, almost always perpetrated by government and never, conveniently, by large corporations."
"We need to remain vigilant by calling BS on the Murdoch model and seeking new ways to create and support independent media that does real public interest journalism," Beers said.
Murdoch meets Harper
The malicious and criminal acts of the News of the World journalists, alleged as they are, may be endemic in Murdoch’s news empire. Reporters from The Sun and the Sunday Times -- two other papers in the multibillion dollar media behemoth News International -- targeted former British prime minister Gordon Brown’s personal financial and property records, as well as his ailing son’s medical records, the Guardian reported.
But just how far do Murdoch's media tentacles reach?
Murdoch’s News International spans Europe, Australia and -- with its acquisition of the Wall Street Journal -- America too. News International is subsequently owned by News Corporation, a media conglomerate that controls Fox Broadcasting Company and the associated Twentieth Century Fox Films, along with numerous other media-related ventures.
Though the Murdoch empire is large, other than by proximity to Fox news outlets in the U.S. and the assorted papers he owns there, there is no Murdoch channel or paper in Canada.
But that’s not to say his influence stops at the border.
Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper met with Murdoch in New York, an event foreseen by Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith in 2008.
"Don't be surprised if Prime Minister Harper pays a quiet visit to Murdoch the next time Harper happens to pass through New York City, where Murdoch spends most of his time," Smith wrote.
Well meet they did, about a year after Smith published his prophetic blog post suggesting one way Murdoch might break into the Canadian market would be through a Canwest buy-out, but only after some serious political lobbying -- the sort that involves off the books meetings with a prime minister.
As it turned out, Shaw Communications, a Canadian company, bought the financially floundering Canwest instead.
The media mogul’s political meddling is well documented, having reportedly met with former British prime minister Tony Blair ahead of his decision to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"Mr. Murdoch routinely meets with politicians," writes conservative commentator Tasha Kheiriddin, in an open letter at the National Post. "He granted US President Barack Obama an audience in 2008... Mr. Murdoch has also met with other politicians, including former Australian PM Kevin Rudd and current UK PM David Cameron," she writes.
"Fox News North"
The Harper-meets-Murdoch story matters because even though there is no Fox news in Canada, there is a "Fox News North," the name commonly given to Sun News Network, a new Quebecor Media Inc. 24-hour conservative news channel that hit the airwaves in April.
The network earned the alternative titles "Fox News North" and "Tory TV" before its first broadcast due to the right-wing content many expected to see there.
Sun News Network is hosted and steered by well-known conservative Canadians, like Ezra Levant, a convicted libelist and former press secretary to former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day, and Kory Teneycke, former press secretary to Prime Minister Harper.
They say the network is taking on Canada’s mainstream media, providing something that’s always been lacking.
"Canada is calling out for a news leader we can be proud of. It's time for a new choice, a new voice, a new genre, a new information and analysis specialty service for Canadians," reads the Sun News Network website. "The time has arrived for Sun News."
In the months running up to the arrival of Sun News, a Stop Fox News North petition emerged, earning the signature of Canadian literary icon Margaret Atwood, along with more than 80,000 others so far.
The petition reads:
"Prime Minister Harper is trying to push American-style hate media onto our airwaves, and make us all pay for it. His plan is to create a ‘Fox News North’ to mimic the kind of hate-filled propaganda with which Fox News has poisoned U.S. politics. The channel will be run by Harper’s former top aide and will be funded with money from our cable TV fees!"
Meanwhile some Canadian media seemed to describe the arrival of Sun News as farcical, unimportant.
"If you’ve got a devilish sense of humour, it is the most hilarious news channel you’ve ever, ever seen. You want weird comedy? You got it by the bucketful with these people," wrote John Doyle in the Globe and Mail last month.
Anything for a buck journalism
So "Fox News North" is here, and perhaps not really making a big difference in the public conversation. But has the true Murdoch-model, that many so vehemently loath, really rooted in Canada?
Consider Kai Nagata’s recent tell-all fulmination of Canadian broadcast news posted on his blog just days after cutting loose from a coveted Quebec City bureau chief position at CTV.
"What the Murdoch model demonstrated was that facts and truth could be replaced by ideology, with viewership and revenue going up," Nagata writes. "Simply put, you can tell less truth and make more money."
"Well, Canada now has its Fox News," he writes. "Krista Erickson, Brian Lilley, and Ezra Levant each do a wonderful send-up of the TV anchor character. The stodgy, neutral, unbiased broadcaster trope is played for jokes before the Sun News team gleefully rips into its targets."
While there is no evidence to suggest the Sun News team is scandalously intercepting emails or phone calls or fraudulently obtaining personal details of political figures, widowers and fallen soldiers, like the News of the World appears to have done, they are following the very same ethos that guides that type of journalism: anything for a buck.
And it's a model cropping up elsewhere in Canadian journalism, according to Nagata.
"The people who are supposed to be holding decision makers to account are instead broadcasting useless tripe, or worse, stories that actively distract from the massive projects we need to be tackling instead of watching TV," writes Nagata.
"On a weekend where there was real news happening in Bangkok, Misrata, Athens, Washington, and around the world, what we saw instead was a breathless gaggle of normally credible journalists, gushing in live hit after live hit about how the prince is young and his wife is pretty. And the public broadcaster led the charge," he writes of Canadian broadcasters’ most recent obsession with Kate and Will and their visit to Canada.
Nagata’s rant received almost instant praise, some condemnation, but mostly resounding approval. Some came from prominent journalists like the Toronto Star’s Antonia Zerbisias and the CBC’s Duncan McCue, who both re-tweeted the link to their followers.
Even Sun Media’s national bureau chief (the print side of Sun News Network) David Akin re-tweeted the blog, saying “Must read: Young reporter (@kainagata) despairs of TV news, quits network job,” with a link to the post.
This on the same day Akin posted a link to his paper’s front page story complete with a revealing photo of Kate Middleton's backside, saying "It's a a picture of what happened! We stood there and took pictures -- like thousands of others!"
Nagata’s exit-rant tells a story of vanity over talent, celebrity over politics and dollars and cents over public interest, a model made ultra-profitable by Murdoch. While Sun News Network hasn’t garnered much of an audience yet, with ratings far below expected in it’s first weeks, Nagata comes from CTV, which reaches millions of Canadians every month, and speaks of the same unfortunate demise at CBC, who broadcasts to even more.
While News Corporation routinely earned billions of dollars every year, Murdoch has lost a significant foot hold in the British media market and may stand to take a hit in America too. Depending the result of investigations into the alleged 9/11 phone-hacking, some have suggested Murdoch could lose his license to operate a media outlet in that country.
But none of that will matter if media outside of the Murdoch family follow his news model anyway.