Politicians are terrified of Rupert Murdoch.
Part of this comes from the fear of their secrets being revealed by Murdoch’s press.
Another part is fawning before anyone with an enormous amount of money.
But the major reason is a distorted view of the influence the media has.
The idea that the mass media controls our ideas is a very common one.
People are seen as sheep that follow the media more or less unthinkingly. The conclusion is that we are powerless in the face of mass propaganda that brainwashes us into compliance.
This is a dominant idea within mainstream politics. Leading figures in all the main political parties see winning over the mass media as the key to winning elections.
This is because they are convinced that the Murdoch press, and the Sun in particular, has a direct line to the minds of millions of working class people.
The relationship developed between Murdoch and Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher helped her get government policies across through customised media, and secured success for Murdoch’s corporate enterprise.
The symbiotic relationship was the ideal one for the media corporation and the Tories.
Murdoch’s main interest is profit. So he wants to sell lots of newspapers and make money. Murdoch wants an unrestricted market because he knows that it could increase his power.
And “Expand or die” isn’t just Murdoch’s motto. It’s the motto of capitalism.
Capitalism is based on competitive accumulation—bosses vying with each other to grab more markets and more influence.
The ruling class is not a homogenous group. There are divisions within it—and the media reflects these. This is partly because of their competing commercial interests.
“It’s the Sun Wot Won It” was the paper’s headline after the 1992 election. The Tories had unexpectedly won—and the Sun had printed a front page mocking Labour leader Neil Kinnock on election day.
A section of the Labour movement came to believe that it was impossible to win an election without the support of Murdoch.
Former Labour spin doctor Lance Price says that Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell took advice from Australian prime minister Paul Keating on how to deal with Murdoch. Keating told them, “He’s a big bad bastard, and the only way you can deal with him is to make sure he thinks you can be a big bad bastard too.
“But the only thing he cares about is his business and the only language he respects is strength.”
In 1995 Murdoch came to believe that Blair would win the next election and did a deal with him—Murdoch’s papers swung behind Labour in the 1997 election.
The mass media obviously has some influence over people’s ideas. It can set the agenda and the boundaries of “legitimate” debate.
Cleverly-written articles can confirm people’s existing prejudices by offering them a highly selective and confected version of reality, reflecting and amplifying the reactionary views people hold.
At its worst, the media can reinforce racist and sexist ideas.
But those ideas do not originate in the media—they come from the capitalist society we live in.
The media shapes our views of the world.
But it does not control them. New Labour, as well as falling in love with big business, also fell into the trap of believing in the all powerful Murdoch.
As Murdoch’s empire is shaken, they shouldn’t fall into the trap again.