Rupert Murdoch - Reuters - July 10 2011
Rupert Murdoch at a conference in Idaho last week. Photo by Reuters
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LONDON - No one is coming out of this story looking good. Not the reporters and the editors of the News of the World newspaper, who hired a private detective to "hack" into the mobile phone messages of the subjects of their investigations - actors, celebrities, footballers, but also families who lost soldiers in wars and victims of murder. Certainly not the top brass of Rupert Murdoch's News International, who pushed the Sunday tabloid into the murky depths of the journalism swamp, chasing down sensationalist headlines and higher sales.

The power of the News International empire - which in Britain controls not just the tabloid with the biggest circulation, The Sun, but also "institutional" papers The Times and Sunday Times, as well as the BSkyB satellite television channels - was so extensive that, when the police caught a glimpse of the phone hacking affair more than five years ago, a decision was made that there were more important issues to investigate.

There is no surprise that the police behaved in this manner when the relationship between the governing elite and the top management of newspapers owned by Murdoch are in such close symbiosis that ministers and parliamentarians more often than not reveal the Prime Minister's policies through the press.

This was the way it was under Tony Blair, and his successor, Gordon Brown. While in opposition, the Conservative leader, David Cameron, hired the former editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson, as his "media adviser" - even though he was warned about getting mixed up in the snooping affair.

Cameron and his inner circle are regularly spending time at parties held by the senior members of the Murdoch empire and Murdoch's children, and they are in return invited for weekends at the Prime Minister's country retreat at Chequers.

The British public would also be hard pressed to complain to the journalists and the politicians. The insatiable appetite for gossip under the guise of news makes nice profits for the tabloids, in spite of the drop in advertising revenues caused by the growth of the Internet.

The impact of the empire not only affects police investigations and wholesale leaks of exclusive news to Murdoch's reporters. The close links between the Australian media tycoon and the government had seemingly allowed him to receive permission - following a government investigation - to purchase the remaining 61 percent of BSkyB that he didn't already own. That deal had been approved but not rubber-stamped. Now Murdoch has flown to Britain to try and ensure that the sale isn't derailed at the last moment.

The deal, worth billions, would enable him to take over another portion of a British media market in which he already has unusual influence. This is not the first time that the British government has granted such unusual permits. Now everything may change.

What the complaints failed to do - over the absence of competition; breaching people's privacy; and lowering the standards on anything to do with the publication of nude photos and baseless stories - is now being done by public anger following the exposure of the News of the World's reporters for having hacked into the mobile phone voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002. This anger has already brought the closure of the paper - the biggest Sunday tabloid in the country - which will be published for the last time today. It is also putting at risk the BSkyB deal, is shedding doubt over the conduct of senior figures in Murdoch's company, including his son and heir, James. All are expected to be questioned by the police soon.