News & Current Affairs
12 March 2014
The Murdoch payback
Rupert Murdoch has many plans in place around the world to cement his grip on power. Here in Australia, one of them is about to recoup its reward.
The Rupert Murdoch saga is far from over.
Some of us who grew up with Rupert in Australia believed that the hacking scandal in England would bring him down to earth. But his obsession with power and political influence have been too strong.
Shaking off the embarrassment of the savage physical and emotional beating he endured from his third wife, Murdoch has turned his attention now primarily to the United States, carried away with the success of his ridiculous Fox News network, which has captured a huge audience of moronic neo-fascist Americans with dangerous political views that could destroy America one day.
He has an urge to create a new ultra-conservative Republican president, who will accept his wise advice as Margaret Thatcher in England once did.
He rid himself of Wendi Deng and the two daughters he had by her and gave them his multi-million Park Avenue residence - one of the most expensive homes in New York City.
Rupert has now bought himself a vastly over-large bachelor pad - four storeys of transparent glass walls sitting at the top of an ugly and ostentatious brand new 60-storey tower in midtown Manhattan. The price: $US57,250,000, which is substantially cheaper than the skyscraper-top home he gave to Wendi and the girls as his parting gift.
This new chapter in the life of Murdoch started in May-June last year when he engaged a woman named Antoinette Cook Bush, usually known as 'Toni'. She joined the inner circle of Murdoch's team in the United States. Toni is direct from 'Inside the Beltway' - an American idiom used to describe someone who is deeply influential inside the circle of governance of the world's most powerful economic and military nation.
Toni has a twenty-year background in communications and media and represented clients in legislative, regulatory and business transactions. She was senior counsel in the Communications Subcommittee of the US Senate, which has oversight of the Federal Communications Commission and had a role in preparing legislation. She will be a powerful background figure in 21st Century Fox's and Fox News dealings with the government.
Between Toni and Roger Ailes, and the addition of two senior executives from a mysterious organisation called The Livingstone Group, who have joined the board of 21st Century Fox, Rupert has the weapons and some fresh and highly skilled brains to carry out the latest venture, leaving the London hacking case disaster behind as a minor glitch in his extraordinary career.
Or so he intends.
While News Corporation is being effectively reconstructed as subservient to 21st Century Fox, Rupert's favourite English editor, Rebekah Brooks, former head of his British operations, is undergoing a painful cross-examination in a courtroom in London's Old Bailey. She has, on demand, resigned from the company and received an extraordinarily generous payout of $30 million.
After hours of intense questioning, the world's currently most fascinating redhead has protested that she had no knowledge of what went on in Murdoch British newspapers: no knowledge of secret payments, no knowledge of what certain private detectives were employed for, no knowledge of what they did, no knowledge of phone hacking.
Yet, over 20 years, she had risen through the company from office secretary, to reporter, to editor, to editor-in-chief and finally to chief executive of all British operations. She had Rupert's total support right up to being told to go. And Rupert knew nothing either, except for one rogue reporter.
If she knew nothing, she could never have told Rupert Murdoch anything - could she?
The truth, or otherwise, can only emerge when the jurors and the judge complete their deliberations.
Meanwhile, a decision made in New York means that News Corp spin-off shares from 21st Century Fox are about to be removed from the Australian Stock Exchange after less than a year on the ASX, possibly leaving Australian investors who have supported the company for sixty years with no compensation.
The news has justifiably caused an angry ripple among tens of thousands Australian non-voting shareholders (a figure estimated by the Australian Shareholders Association). Only Murdoch family members have voting rights.
Shareholder and frequent critic of News Corp, Stephen Mayne, is leading a push through the Australian Shareholders Association to persuade the Murdoch-owned 21st Century Fox company to protect the interests of Australia shareholders. Stephen Mayne wants Fox to buy back the shares, since otherwise many Australian investors will be forced to sell at a loss, if they can sell them at all. Australian citizens are not allowed to buy or invest in the US Stock Exchange.
The Murdoch family hold most of the restricted voting shares which control the entire company. The non-voting shares mean that investors have no say in the decisions of the board.
The latest move by the Murdochs may be the result of a review by the U.S. State of Delaware, which up to now has allowed an arrangement that gives voting power to some shareholders not to others. This unfair practice is under review after protests by large groups of investors, including union and worker's retirement shareholders.
Murdoch has, with the advice of Toni, brought on board The Livingstone Group to 21st Century Fox to lobby on behalf of 21st Century Fox.
The firm will, according to reports, lobby in the areas of:
Tax reform; sustainable growth rate transparency; data protection; student data accessibility, transparency and accountability; and Federal government acquisition databases.
The Livingstone Group is one of the most prominent organisations in the U.S. in the field of lobbying the government, an art form that involves influential propriety among the members of the United States Congress and Senate. Any form of impropriety is strictly forbidden.
Lobbying politicians is an American tradition that grew from the early the 20th century into an immensely effective way of obtaining benefits from government. Basically, it operates legally, but has sometimes been the source of some highly suspicious activities.
If anything emerged in the current London trials, such as bribery of policemen or government officials by an American citizen - which Rupert Murdoch is - the United States Department of Justice would normally begin an investigation, whether inside or outside America and the legal consequences would be severe. Any adverse finding would almost certainly require him to divest himself of his holdings in Fox News.
For Murdoch, the loss of much of his newspaper-inspired influence has been taken up by Fox News, using every trick in its deeply cynical folio to bring about a favourable result for the Republicans. Who will be their next candidate for President of the United States? Whoever he or she is, the next Republican president will be totally beholden to Rupert Murdoch and his Fox News puppet master, Roger Ailes.
Meanwhile, the future of Murdoch's Australian newspapers is in the balance. Many are losing money. There is chaos in the management of many of the papers.
Murdoch's flagship Sydney tabloid, the Daily Telegraph, justifiably came under fire last week. Paul Barry used the entire fifteen minutes of his weekly Media Watch programme on the ABC to castigate the Telegraph for its incompetence, errors of fact, personal attacks, misleading stories and its outright ignorance of important current issues of concern to all Australians.
Fresh on the heels of this comes Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott's barely concealed plans to pay back Murdoch for his unqualified support in the lead up to the last election by relaxing media ownership laws.
Turnbull says the growth of the internet means:
we should have less regulation and more freedom.
Given Australia already has the most highly concentrated media ownership in the western world and most people still get their news from TV or newspapers, this statement is an insulting furphy.
The only thing that is absolutely certain is that it will be carefully designed to give Murdoch more power, more control and more wealth to stash in his tax-free island banks.
When Murdoch used his imported ace headline writer to help the LNP steal last year's election victory, the old octogenarian wasn't whistling Dixie - he was out to claim his reward.
He has obviously made it clear to the Abbott Government it is now time to pay the piper.
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