News Corp.’s Phone Hacking Scandal and the Public Interest

The last edition of News of the World on July 10, 2011

I am now writing a weekly blog post on media in the digital age for KCET’s The Public Note and will also be contributing posts on local policy at 1st and Spring in addition to occasional posts for LAist.

The ongoing “phone hacking” scandal in the UK may seem like a distant and isolated issue considering how limited the reporting has been in the U.S. press but it’s possible that the media is shying away because it hits too close to home.

What’s come to light in the past month in Britain may be indicative of unethical — if not unlawful — behavior that’s become pervasive across all Western media in the digital age.

At the center of attention is News Corporation, owned by Rupert Murdoch. News Corp. executives will meet with board members in Los Angeles this week for the first time since the scandal, which had been brewing for years, finally broke.

Please click here to continue reading the full article at KCET.org. The following is a brief excerpt.

The fact that News Corp. (and its subsidiaries News Limited in Australia and News International in the UK) has extensive holdings across multiple media platforms suggests that its next moves represent an accountability moment.

In today’s information age it’s not so easy to fabricate stories without getting caught. But the media business is still dominated by the need to have a growing audience to sustain interest from advertisers. The picture emerging from the scandal in the UK is that media outlets will go to great lengths to break stories and attain new information — even illegally — and pay whatever price necessary to keep authorities, whistleblowers, and employees quiet.

Leveraging influence with authorities through payment or blackmail is verboten but it’s an issue that crosses seamlessly over to News Corp’s U.S. holdings, which include Fox News. Through his stable of newspapers, magazines, and broadcast holdings, Murdoch has “strenuously endorsed political candidates and causes and, at times, secured government favors that serve their business interests,” writes Frank Rich in New York which recently published a list of politicians on News Corp.’s payroll.

It’s possible that de-consolidation of the News Corp. empire could be good for both Murdoch and the future of private media and the public interest, as Nicholas Lemann recently suggested on the Council on Foreign Relations website.

But it may be best for independent journalists to carry on watching, reporting and holding all public figures and corporate media accountable for such transgressions.

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