Tagged: Rupert Murdoch

Murdoch Select Committee: the follow-up question they didn’t ask

During the questioning of the Murdoch’s by the House of Commons Select Committee yesterday, much time was spent on the issue of the size of the out-of-court settlement to Gordon Taylor (believed to be in the region of £700,000) and whether this was linked to a confidentiality clause – in effect buying his silence in order to preserve the credibility of the argument that phone hacking was restricted to one instance of a rogue reporter.

James Murdoch’s oft repeated response was that confidentiality agreements are not unusual in these circumstances (true) and that the size of the payment was calculated based on an assessment of likely damages to be paid if the case went to court and was lost (£250,000), plus associated legal costs.  But why would a company make an out of court settlement of more than the amount the individual might expect to get in damages?  Murdoch junior is asking us to believe that News International effectively went to Gordon Taylor and said “if you win your case against us, you might be expected to get £250k – so, if you agree to drop the case we will pay you that £250k.  But on top of that we will also throw in an extra £450k that represents the amount we might of also have to have spent on legal costs – just because we are such nice guys.”

Is that credible?  That extra £450k was there for a reason – and that reason was that it represented the price of Gordon Taylor’s silence.  It had nothing to do with the potential costs to News International of fighting and losing the case, as James Murdoch would have us believe.  Clearly making an assessment of all of these costs was necessary for News International in order to make a decision about whether to fight or settle the case.  However, it would have no significant bearing on the negotiations about the size of settlement – something else must have been in play in order to drive the size of payment so much higher that the potential damages payment.  It is a shame that the Committee just bought James Murdoch’s answer and didn’t push him further on that point.  I would imagine Murdoch himself is pretty surprised that he got away with it.

But it is a really important point.  It is not possible to sustain the argument that you didn’t know or suspect that phone hacking was widespread whilst also then paying large sums of money to try and hush-up those instances of it that threatened to become public.

As an aside, as a former PR with considerable experience in coaching organisations to handle difficult questions, I was very impressed with James Murdoch’s performance.  He got the tone spot on, contrite and respectful, and was able to weave a huge amount of irrelevant detail into his answers in order to create the impression of giving a full response.  His approach clearly subdued the Committee and thus dissuaded them from interrogating his answers sufficiently.  He will also have kept his lawyers happy but without creating the sort of PR disaster that usually happens when you let lawyers write your public responses.  You also never saw the fear in his eyes in the way that even Tony Blair displayed at the start of his Chillcott interogation last year.  A chillingly smooth performance.

Its not about citizens becoming journalists – but journalists becoming citizens

Today The Times launched its new online edition, which it will effectively be closing again late June when it starts to ask people to pay for it.  Times editor, James Harding, was interviewed this morning on the Today programme desperately trying to justify how initiatives such as this represented the salvation of journalism and reporting.

Laying aside the nature of the journalism and reporting that such an initiative is expected to preserve and also the arrogance in many of the assertions that Harding made that essentially implied that news just can’t happen unless some bloke with a notebook is there to ‘make sense of it’, there is a huge flaw in the thinking that upon which the whole paid-for content approach is based.  This flaw is the unquestioned assumption that journalism and journalist are one and the same.  Or to put it another way, the only way that journalism can be achieved is through the institutional structures of one-to-many mass media. Continue reading

Rupert Murdoch: “nowhere else to go”

Rupert Murdoch’s last great battle, getting people to pay for on-line content, has been much discussed.  The general view is that he will not win.  As I have previously said, the issue is not that people won’t pay for content, it is that they won’t pay for distribution, when distribution is free.  Here is some more evidence that he is heading for a fall.

Speaking recently to the National  Press Club at the George Washington University he asserted that people will pay for content when they “have nowhere else to go” i.e. when everyone else is also charging for content.   However, this is never going to happen: not because other content providers won’t collude with Murdoch and also erect paywalls around their content, but because people already have somewhere else to go and this place is not a newspaper or other form of institutionalised news provider.  This is why newspapers are dying, not because newspapers’ content is available free in the digital space.   The institution of a newspaper is being replaced by the process of information sharing using the tools of social media.

The people who have nowhere else to go are newspaper proprietors – not consumers.