What do the Murdochs mean to Britain?

It was a week that both Rupert and James Murdoch will probably want to forget. No worries there then. Listening to their responses to Robert Jay QC at the Leveson inquiry, the collective amnesia the Murdoch family suddenly has when recollecting important meetings and emails is hereditary.
What is truly ironic is the audience viewing figures actually watching the Murdochs give evidence on the potential takeover of BSkyB, are 100 times higher than those tuning into its flagship shows on Sky Atlantic.

When Madison Ave's finest, Mad Men, returned to UK screens this month, its first two episodes only reached 47,000 viewers, however Sky executives have argued the 'catch up' generation have pushed the figures up since then. But it begs the question, what does the Murdoch empire mean to the UK public?

In 1980, News Corporation's empire was dependant on newspapers, with 90% of its portfolio print-based, however today its merely 11%. In March, both the Sun and the new Sun on Sunday were still the highest selling redtops with over 2 million circulation. But the Sun on Sunday was down to 2.4 million in March, from its 3.2 million launch success, and this figure is again lower than the 2.6 million average the News of the World paper posted in June 2011 before its demise. The Times remains just under 400,000 circulation while the Sunday Times is relatively static at just under 1 million.

With print inevitably not growing as fast as digitial and visual media, as James has noted many times, the Murdochs future in the UK is firmly with BSkyB. Even though Murdoch Snr has apologised for the phone-hacking cover-up, the issues of corporate governance and his family's involvement in an enterprise that was criminally corrupt must weigh-on its institutional shareholders. BSkyB's shareprice dipped 7% on Tuesday during James's questioning, and a further 3.5% on Thursday when the more forensic questioning of Rupert took place. It has slowly climbed back to 668.5p but the shareprice has lost 19.89% in the 12 months.

Shareholders and media analysts were very concerned when Rupert claimed he "had no other business interests" to promote via his newspapers, when his £29.5bn conglomerate owns well over 100 global TV networks and channels, book publishers, movie companies, online interests and holdings in various major conglomerates.

Plurality in the media has long been debated and Labour leader Ed Miliband's father, the sociologist Ralph, identified back in the late 1970s that the media would eventually supercede the police, government and church in its power and influence over society. The joint Murdoch revelations prove that though the power has been in their hands for decades, politicians and the police have become more influenced and easily corrupted to curry favour. "No politicians scratch my back" is a fair comment from Murdoch Snr - he hasn't had to worry, because ministers have played into his hands. Even Ed Miliband.

When Rupert created News International in 1979, he immediately changed the world through his actions at Wapping and from that point, everyone knew what he stood for and have never questioned it since. He was also one of a group of media barons which included Robert Maxwell, Tiny Rowland, Conrad Black, Lord Rothermere, and then characters such as Eddy Shah and Sir Alan Sugar appeared to change the way print and early satellite TV were produced. He has outlived some and out-manoeuvred them all. PMs and business leaders alike have probably felt more comfortable with his style of power than say dealing with Maxwell if had survived his final boat trip.

Revelations that Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, is close to Rupert, who finds him "an amusing guy", is no great surprise. Both believe in independence and one is a bona fide Republican, so they have a common interest in applying pressure on the UK government. Salmond of course offered "his office" to Fred Goodwin while he was trying to acquire ABN-Amro, and commended him for his business acumen.

So the House of Murdoch may slowly leave UK shores but its pride and reputation are only wounded, and that is when anything could happen.
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