Jon Sopel- the presenter of the BBC Politics Show, Senior anchor for the News Channel and an Alumnus of Southampton University- returned to the University to present a seminar on Rupert Murdoch and the recent News of the World ‘phone hacking’ scandal. He informed us of not only the intentions of Murdoch, but also attempted to explain why politicians are so enthralled with his media empire and their overwhelming belief that you ‘cannot win a general election without The Sun on your side’.
“You cannot win a general election without the Sun on your side”
To justify the intentions of Murdoch, Sopel posed the question; “is Murdoch an ideologue or a businessman?” To suggest that he is an ideologue would imply that he is attempting to dominate public opinion through the use of his media Empire- is this fair? To suggest he is a businessman, gives the impression that he is trying to achieve the best cost-effective methods in gaining wealth and power. This latter takes on an unusually sympathetic opinion towards Murdoch, one that has not been seen since the scandal. However, it is one that Sopel ultimately believes has driven Murdoch to revolutionalise newspaper production.
Setting the scene, Sopel began by explaining Murdoch’s early moves, depicting the idea of a man who wished to transform the media. His first principal move began in 1986, with the transference of the newspaper business out of its original location in Fleet Street, to a more efficient printing location in Wapping. This was then followed by the purchase of shares in BSkyB, which was said to ‘doom to fail’ from critics, but is in fact now one of his most successful ventures with 36% of households in the UK and Ireland owning a Sky dish. It is clear that he has moved the world on in terms of its advance in media, thus making himself one of the most influential people in the world.
“Murdoch transformed the media”
However, it was the election of 1992 which revealed the extent to which Murdoch’s empire could now exercise its influence within British politics. When the Sun quoted its famous headline- “It’s The Sun Wot Won It”- following a lengthy campaign against the Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock, which consisted of the headline on election day:“If Kinnock wins
today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights”, it highlighted the importance to politicians that you cannot win a general election without the Sun on your side. Sopel questioned whether this was the truth or not. The statement itself remained questionable, particularly as the Sun represented only one fifth of the electorate. Furthermore, the results of the election itself (36% Labour and 45%Tory) revealed a very small difference. However, as Sopel proved to us, these clear facts made no difference to the political thinking of numerous politicians.
In 1995, Tony Blair began ‘courting’ Murdoch which began with a visit to Australia to address News International and then, only a few years later, to be made Godfather of one of Murdoch’s young children. Sopel took these examples to emphasise once again that Murdoch was not acting as an ideologue, as it was Labour policy towards the press to ‘cosy up’ to Murdoch, rather than him reaching to get in with politicians. This intimate relationship between politicians and the media created great fear over the power of the media, and its ability to manipulate political position. Murdoch was even said to be the “22nd Member of the Cabinet”.
This overview which Sopel gave of the past relationship between Politics and Murdoch, revealed why the outrage over phone hacking scandal in the summer was such a major act, almost a revolution against Murdoch. It brought to the forefront the dominant question; why are politicians so enthralled with him? Murdoch was not an ideologue; he had just simply found a political class willing to do anything in order for his support, followed by outrageous benefits for himself in return. The scandal itself has created a new relationship between politics and the media of today. They now tend to distance themselves from the media and find new forms of communicating with us, the public. Sopel did not attempt to hide the fact that politicians will always be involved in media, and that it is in fact a positive action in order to create appropriate impressions to the public. However, a vital lesson has been learnt amongst politicians, and as a result communication between parliament and us will no longer be dominated by one empire, but through various methods and networks.