I have tremendous respect for the Guardian’s investigative journalist Nick Davies, who never gave up on the News International phone-hacking story, even though neither the Press Complaints Commission nor the Metropolitan police treated it with the seriousness the case deserved. The phone-hacking saga has now been labeled as the British Watergate, and rightly so, because it has serious implications for British society. As more details keep coming out, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the unethical behaviour was not only a disease of the News of the World but of the whole Murdoch news empire. Just to remind people of the United States (in case anyone over there is reading this): Murdoch’s aim in the US is to put the New York Times out of business. In Britain he already controls 40% of the newspaper market.
All this has reminded of a phone interview I did with Nick Davies quite a few months ago, so I thought I would just revisit what he then said about Murdoch’s power in British media and politics. Here’s a transcript:
I would agree with many people who are very worried about Murdoch’s power. You could see two different kinds of danger. One danger is that he uses his increasingly large share of market to make savings which means that there is no longer a fair competition between him and the others. We’ve seen him do this before with price wars, where he cut the price of the Times to a level which was completely unrealistic. He was able to use the rest of his business empire to pay for that. The impact on a newspaper like the Telegraph, which tried to cut its price too, was almost deadly, as they didn’t have a huge business empire to pay for the loss. Now, if he succeeds in buying all of SKY, there is this risk that he will say, well, we’ll now sell a subscription for the newspaper website bundled up with SKY television, and that is something no other newspaper owner could do. So he would have a tremendously unfair advantage in the marketplace. And the thing about Rupert Murdoch is that he always wants fair competition in the marketplace, unless that isn’t to his advantage – in which case he wants unfair competition because that’ll make him more money.
So the first thing is that he’s a threat to other news organisations and the second thing is that he is a threat to our democracy because governments are frightened of him. We have a system which is technically one man, one vote. But one man has far more power than all the voters put together. That can’t be right.