ITHACA, NY — The phone-hacking scandal that has engulfed British newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch is bound to make waves in the United States as well, according to a media critic and former commentator for Fox News. Jeff Cohen, an associate professor of journalism and director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, says this is a defining moment for the chairman and CEO of News Corporation.
“I’ve followed Rupert Murdoch for years, and he often stumbles but never seems to fall. He has befriended or intimidated politicians in countries across the world to get his way — from China to England to the U.S. He was the first truly global media mogul. Who knows how high up the scandal may reach?”
Cohen, whose books include “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media” and “Wizards of Media Oz: Behind the Curtain of Mainstream News,” founded the media watchdog group FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) in 1986. He was a daily commentator on MSNBC in 2002, a weekly panelist on the Fox News Channel’s “News Watch” from 1997–2002, and a cohost of CNN’s “Crossfire” in 1996.
He considers it appropriate that the FBI has now apparently launched an investigation, following accusations that 9-11 victims may have had their phones hacked.
“The lack of ethics shown by Murdoch’s powerful staffers in England is a transnational virus, as News Corp. has regularly imported these British staffers to his U.S. outlets, from the ‘New York Post’ to the ‘Wall Street Journal’ to the Fox News Channel.”
But Cohen blames growing media consolidation as much as Murdoch himself, as the troubles that started with the Sunday newspaper “News of the World” came at a time when Murdoch was seeking permission from the British government for full ownership of the British Sky Broadcasting Group. He shuttered the paper in an attempt to stem the tide of bad publicity, but days later ended up withdrawing the ownership bid.
“It’s obvious that Team Murdoch terminated “News of the World” — a big personal setback as it was his first U.K. media acquisition — to move forward on an even larger goal: 100% control of the powerful BSkyB satellite network,” said Cohen. “Unfortunately for him, that tactic failed as outrage spread wider and stronger by the day.”
Media mergers in this country may also have hit a stumbling block.
“At the same time the Murdoch empire took a hit by announcing the termination of one of its biggest outlets, a U.S. federal appeals court took the FCC to task for green-lighting even further media conglomeration, vacating a rule that relaxed limits on cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcast outlets,” said Cohen. “That stunning court decision hurts more than just Murdoch.”
The mission of the Park Center for Independent Media (PCIM) is to study the growing independent media sector, encourage career paths inside independent outlets and examine the impact that maverick, entrepreneurial and independent institutions are having on journalism, politics and culture.
“Thanks to the independent media and their allies in recent years, there is now a mass constituency on the issue of corporate media ownership,” said Cohen. “It’s no accident that the ‘Guardian’ — which operates as a nonprofit trust — is the newspaper that has doggedly exposed the Murdoch empire and its criminal behavior for years now.”
For more information, visit the PCIM at www.ithaca.edu/indy or contact Jeff Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.