Heroic acts of a favourite vil­lain

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment - Stephen Pol­lard

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.