Heroic acts of a favourite villain
THERE ARE CERTAIN sentences which just can’t be uttered. You know the sort of thing. If a politician said that most voters are idiots, he’d quickly be an ex-politician; and a rabbi who said that his shul board should stick to selling shmutters would soon be looking for a new congregation. A new sentiment has joined that list. It was always pretty outré. But recently it’s become toxic. And I am the man to tell you just how toxic, because I’ve said it myself and am still being told what that makes me.
I’m going to say it again. Right here, right now. And I know exactly what’s coming my way after you read the next sentence: Rupert Murdoch is not all bad.
Say that in polite company and you can see the air freeze. I’m still getting angry emails from people who can’t believe that they heard such words coming out of my mouth.
I’ve put it rather more strongly than that before. A few months ago, on BBC TV’S Question Time, I was asked whether it was right to compare James Murdoch with the head of the mafia. My response (as well as the word “no”) was to point out that Rupert Murdoch has done more to engender a broad, free and prosperous press than any other living human. He has poured hundreds of millions of pounds into subsidising The Times. And his battle with the unions at Wapping set free every other newspaper, saving the industry.
In gambling his entire company on BSKYB, when the sages thought satellite broadcasting was a failsafe way to lose a fortune, he introduced unprecedented choice and quality for viewers. In my view, I said, Rupert Murdoch is one of the great men of history.
The expression on the audience’s collective face was a treat. Rupert Murdoch?!
So send me your brickbats, laugh, dismiss me as mad. But I am entirely serious.
Criminal acts have clearly taken place at News International. Those responsible must be punished by the courts. And News Corp is rightly paying a heavy price for the wrongdoing. My point, however, is that, despite all that, Britain is much better off for having had Rupert Murdoch’s papers and investment.
I’d argue that with anyone. But it’s an especially important point for our community to grasp.
Think about news coverage of Israel. Imagine that Sky News didn’t exist. We are so used to it now that it’s hard to remember it’s been around only since 1989. It exists because of one man: Rupert Murdoch.
If we get angry at the BBC’S coverage of Israel now, think how much worse things would be if there were no counterbalance — if the only 24-hour news broadcaster was the BBC, with its “condemn first, check later” attitude, and its correspondents’ knee-jerk anti-israel approach.
Instead, we have Sky News, with its brilliant and objective foreign editor, Tim Marshall (whose byline occasionally graces the JC’S pages). Which of us does not turn to Sky News rather than the BBC for unbiased reporting of the Middle East?
Then there are his newspapers. Of course, The Times is sometimes critical of Israel. So is the JC. But its criticism, like ours, is always from the perspective of a friend and admirer. The Times loses tens of millions of pounds every year. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists — and, more importantly, is a beacon of quality — because Rupert Murdoch chooses to pay for it.
And yet the suggestion that Mr Murdoch’s contribution to British public life is overwhelmingly positive is regarded, even within our community, as ridiculous.
Instead of lauding him for what he has done, we stand back and sneer.
It has always been fashionable to bash Rupert Murdoch. Now it has become almost obligatory. We should step back and think for a moment before joining the stampede.