James Murdoch is wrong

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LONDON — Saturday’s papers describe James Murdoch’s (News Corp’s Chairman and Chief Executive for Europe and Asia) MacTaggart Lecture in Edinburgh with whispered anxiety. It’s 20 years since his dad spoke at the same venue. And both have managed to scare the horses.

“The only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantee of independence is profit.”

say Murdoch, fils.

“The mere selection of stories and their place in the running order is itself a process full of unacknowledged partiality.”

he says to build his argument.

The News Corp view is that any attempt to avoid partiality is patently unfair.

It’s a remarkable somersault.

The idea is that only totally “free-market”, consumer-led selection of information can be fair. And that news must be profitable to be partial.

It’s a dive, spin and twist worthy of the greatest, uncelebrated synchronised swimmer.

And yet it has the embattled media-rati in thrall. Dazed and confused, they sense it must be another deadly omen from the future.

Every now and then someone comes along who speaks as the human voice of ‘the corporation’. Think of Mr Murdoch’s speech in that context and it makes perfect sense. And it’s even less confusing when the ‘corporate spokesperson’ is as closely aligned with the corporation as Messrs Murdoch are.

However, in spite of the fact that corporations in America, for example, have the status of a person… corporations are not human and do not have interests that always align with society.

That is one thing we should have learned in this recession. Corporate reputation is a strong driver of performance in bad times… and in good. And corporate reputation is not driven purely by the balance sheet.


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One Response

  1. Rob Gallo

    True, “corporate reputation is not driven purely by the balance sheet”. However, greater links of corporate reputation to the balance is by no means a bad thing. Consumer-led selection, leads to stakeholders and governments paying attention.

    I think the points NewsCorp are making resonate more in the USA, than say UK/Europe. US consumers trust companies a whole lot more than government regulators. Which is why a free-market system ends up being a sort of ‘handshake’ with the consumer (thereby creating the link with the balance sheet).

    In this context, Mr Murdoch’s point ‘greater trust in consumers, empowering them to make their own choices’ is laudable.

    Whereas in UK/Europe there is a slightly different dynamic at work. We trust companies less and expect regulators to do more (one doesn’t need to list the examples of new policies originating from Brussels – which companies like NewsCorp probably find restrictive, hence the comments of his lecture).

    Am not suggesting one approach is better than the other. However, it does mean one needs to approach communications (and reputation management) quite differently in these two parts of the world. A point Mr Murdoch probably knows all too well.


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