Murdoch’s empire ‘ominous’

Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch added one of the most respected brands in journalism to his already vast media empire last week, gaining enough support from the deeply divided Bancroft family to buy Dow Jones & Company, publisher of the Wall Street Journal, for $5 billion. In the midst of a very public negotiation which had much of US journalism recoiling in horror, Murdoch also announced his intention to launch Fox Business Network, which will begin broadcasting this October.

And it appears the News Corp Chairman has every intention of using the journalistic resources of Dow Jones to bolster his fledgling business channel. “Murdoch has a long and sordid history of discarding the accepted norms of honest journalism in order to advance his own political and corporate agenda,” wrote Eric Boehlert, a senior fellow at Media Matters in America, in a statement published on the progressive media watchdog group’s website.

“Of particular concern is Murdoch’s plan to use the Journal to help launch the Fox Business Network, which will be overseen by Fox News boss and former Republican strategist Roger Ailes,” Boehlert said. The convergence of Dow Jones and Murdoch’s FOX Business Network makes the NBC-owned and operated CNBC a prime target. In 1997, CNBC formed a strategic alliance with Dow Jones, including content sharing with Dow Jones Newswires and the Journal and the rebranding of the channel as “a service of NBC and Dow Jones.”

While the coupling of Dow Jones and the new FOX venture is a victory for proponents of media consolidation, much of the anger throughout the journalist community has been directed at Murdoch’s acquisition of the Journal — a publication many in the US believe to be the most respected name in business reporting. Critics have decried the Dow Jones sale, arguing that Murdoch has rarely improved any news media company he has purchased, and that he will in all likelihood turn the highly respected Journal into a mouthpiece for his own political views, as he has done with the Fox News Channel.

While the Journal isn’t exactly a beacon of liberal opinion — its editorial pages boast some of the most conservative voices in the US — the paper remains an iconic publication known for its serious and credible reporting tradition. Negative sentiments were voiced by Journal reporters themselves, who reacted bitterly to news of the sale.

The fear is that Murdoch will imbue the Journal with the same sensationalism and, it is widely acknowledged, biased news coverage found on Fox News and in the pages of the New York Post. Thirty years ago, Murdoch purchased the liberal tabloid for $30 million and promised not to alter it. Currently, the paper is regarded as a right-wing gossip rag.

While Murdoch may not initially tamper with the editorial content, his ownership does place him in a position to challenge the New York Times. It would not be surprising if Murdoch engaged in a less overt campaign to woo advertisers away from that paper by offering cheaper advertising rates, according to Peter Hart, of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

“That’s the playbook. Go after your competitors, go after their ad rates so they lose the support,” said Hart. “You have to have money to push a price war, and if [Murdoch] did that, there would be no surprise.” — IPS