mon 10/08/2020

The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty, BBC Two review - how the Aussie tycoon acquired huge political leverage | reviews, news & interviews

The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty, BBC Two review - how the Aussie tycoon acquired huge political leverage

The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty, BBC Two review - how the Aussie tycoon acquired huge political leverage

New documentary told us what Rupert did, but not what he's really like

Rupert Murdoch and his sons Lachlan and James, 2002

As an opening line to BBC Two's new three-part series, “Rupert Murdoch is an enigma” failed to set pulses racing. It rather implied that after three hours of documentary TV, we may end up none the wiser about what makes the scary Australian media tycoon tick.

Still, director Jamie Roberts and his team had done their due diligence in the research department, turning up a trove of nuggets from the archives interspersed with pithy interviews from assorted players in Murdoch’s extraordinary journey, including Alan Sugar, Hugh Grant, Piers Morgan and Andrew Neil. There were some chilling contributions from former News of the World reporter Graham Johnson, making what almost sounded like a deathbed confession as he outlined the dirty tricks and tactics his Murdoch-owned paper had used in the mid-Nineties to target (among others) Tory MPs. “The News of the World was like having a division of the SS at your beck and call,” he said, “and it could be sent into action and it would execute your orders to the fucking full stop.”

This first episode, subtitled “Kingmaker”, considered the jockeying for power within the Murdoch family, namely daughter Elisabeth and sons Lachlan and James, and Rupert’s shock marriage to Wendi Deng in 1999 (pictured left, Wendi and Roop). A fascinating aside was hearing teenage soprano Charlotte Church describing how she sang at the their wedding, and was offered the choice of £100,000 or guaranteed favourable press coverage. At the urging of her management and record company, she opted for the latter.

But the main theme was the way Murdoch built his UK news operation, and used it to leverage huge political power. He found an ideological soulmate in Margaret Thatcher, who helped him acquire The Times and The Sunday Times as well as a big chunk of BSkyB, and in return benefited from robust support from his titles. But when John Major proved less compliant – he rejected Rupert’s request for the Conservatives to change their policy on Europe – he dumped the Tories for Tony Blair, who rushed into his arms like an ardent young lover, to the horror of more seasoned Labour Party figures.

John Prescott summed up the dilemma. He reflected on how he could understand why Blair was desperately keen to enlist Murdoch’s support, having seen how his papers had systematically trashed a line of Labour leaders, but “I just don’t like the price that comes with it” (pictured right, Blair with Rebekah Brooks, editor of The Sun).

Part of Murdoch’s price was Blair’s promise to hold a referendum on Britain adopting the Euro, while Murdoch pushed Blair hard into backing the 2003 invasion of Iraq. They say all power corrupts, and you had to wonder why more of the people involved in these shenanigans didn’t end up in jail. Meanwhile, while we’ve been told what Rupert did, we still don’t know much about what he’s really like.

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