“Look on my works, ye mighty; and despair!” So said the base of the statue of Ozymandias of Egypt – Ramasses the Great, Pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt – discovered deep under the desert sands in Shelley’s epic poem Ozymandias.
The poet’s point being of course that though undoubtedly great, in his day, ultimately Ozymandias and his empire went the way of all flesh, and all empires. So it seems is going the empire of Rupert Murdoch, once the greatest media conglomerate the world has ever known.
Absolute carnage is currently being caused in British public life by the fall-out from the illegal phone hacking carried out by Murdoch’s servants. In a story transfixing the country, there are often developments several times daily including arrests of powerful people and resignations from some of the best known public figures in the land.
Like all good scandals follow the money is the maxim. And the question made famous by Watergate – “What did he know and when did he know it?” is the one on everybody’s lips. The “he” in question is, increasingly, the prime minister himself.
David Cameron is slowly sinking into the Murdoch quicksands for several reasons. His relations with Murdoch’s top-brass, now under investigation, have turned out to be almost comically close. He was a “riding partner” of Rebekah Brooks, Murdoch’s British CEO, who was arrested by police on Sunday.
Since becoming prime minister just fifteen months ago, Cameron has had 26 meetings with Murdoch’s executives. Cameron’s wife was likely the only person to get more meetings with the PM than Murdoch’s executives.
Cameron, against the advice of his deputy prime minister, employed former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his communications director. Coulson, who has been at the centre of the hacking probe, was arrested on July 8, while his deputy was detained last week.
This has snowballed, causing the resignation of Britain’s top two policemen and several other senior Murdoch executives.
Two months after Coulson was finally pushed out of his official position as communications director, and was under criminal investigation for phone hacking, Cameron invited him to spend the weekend at Chequers, the British prime minister’s country home.
Such is the turmoil in London that respected commentators – on Monday for example Professor Roy Greenslade, the pre-eminent media pundit – are calling on Cameron’s deputy Nick Clegg to table a motion of no confidence in the PM.
Last week, that would have been a joke. Today it doesn’t seem so funny, or unlikely.
I declare an interest. I was one of the first people to be informed by Scotland Yard – London’s Metropolitan Police – that my phone was being hacked by a private investigator working for Mr Murdoch. They visited me in my office in parliament and told me this, so I began a legal action which is set to come before the courts in December.
It didn’t surprise me all that much in the light of my role as a leader of Britain’s anti-war movement, a champion of the Palestinian cause for over 35 years, and a defender of Muslims both at home and abroad. Even Mr Murdoch wouldn’t dispute the fact that these are causes far from his own heart. This throws up a contradiction now coming more clearly into focus.
Prince Walid bin Talal bin Abdelaziz Al-Saud, the second biggest shareholder in News Corporation after Murdoch, recently gave an interview, on his yacht, to the BBC flagship programme Newsnight. The Saudi prince declared himself “a good friend” of Rupert Murdoch and his son James Murdoch (probably the next executive to be charged by the police in the scandal).
He defended both men briskly, but in doing so drew attention to the fact that he is the second biggest shareholder in the Murdoch empire, and that the Murdochs were major shareholders in his own Rotana media empire in the Middle East.
An unholy alliance, surely? Mr Murdoch is the co-owner, with Prince Walid, of Fox News – one of the most virulently anti-Muslim television stations in the world. The station gives a megaphone to the likes of Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Sarah Palin. In the US, Fox’s role was to throw gallons of petrol on the flames Islamophobia which were leading to the burning of the Holy Quran by vigilantes.
Then there is the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy. The planned building was, of course, not at Ground Zero. It was not a mosque but an Islamic centre. The centre was partially funded by Prince Walid, the co-owner with Murdoch of Islamophobic media fire-raisers including Fox News and the New York Post.
Prince Walid it will be recalled was roundly insulted by the government of New York City when they returned the cheque he donated to the victims of the 9/11 attacks. A glutton for punishment no doubt.
Murdoch’s newspapers in Britain are little better than their US-counterparts and include photographs and sexualised images which would never see the light of day in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. As a whole it is safe to say that Murdoch’s nearly 200 newspapers – and his television stations in so far as he can compel the latter which are more tightly regulated – are bastions of fanatically pro-Israel, anti-Muslim bigotry.
Yet they are co-owned by a member of the Saudi Royal family who not only approves of these practices, but regards the mogul Murdoch as his “good friend”.
Murdoch’s plans to take 100 per cent ownership of British Sky Broadcasting now lie in ruins like Ozymandias’s broken statue. Aged 80, he may, at the pace we are moving, be ousted by his own shareholders before long.
His dream of a Sky Arabia, however, remains a clear and present danger. Like the tobacco manufacturers, the more they are run out of towns in the west the more they concentrate on selling their addictive poison in the east. NewsCorp, with Prince Walid, may be sailing your way. Beware of pirates ye Arabs.