Sunday, July 10, 2011

Murdoch: Evil Tyrant or Brilliant Strategist?

Like many in the UK I went to buy the last ever copy of the News of the World this morning; after over 200 employees of the NotW lost their jobs yesterday as the paper printed its last Sunday paper and closed its doors over allegations of phone hacking that the current staff weren’t even party too.

Entities like a newspaper don’t make mistakes, only the humans running them do, and it’s this human element that must be held to account when laws have been broken and distasteful reporting allowed. Here we have a newspaper that was first published in 1843 closing down after 168 years and the woman at the helm during the phase of the ‘phone hacking’ allegations and the current CEO of News International, Rebekah Brook’s, stays in her job with the full support of the owner Rupert Murdoch.

In the old days, the passengers and crew were ushered to the life-boats while the Captain stayed behind and went down with the ship. Today, with the Murdoch Empire, we have a new sordid form of ‘honour’ where the leaders rush to the life-boats and leave the crew to go down with the ship.

It’s believed that at least nine journalists and three police officers are facing jail in connection with the NotW phone hacking scandal and Scotland Yard have accused NotW of orchestrating a five year cover up (The Sunday Times, 10th July, p.1).

This story will be a blockbuster movie soon, as we have a media empire hacking phones of celebrities, royalty, missing children, families of dead soldiers, and God knows who else. We have police officers who were bribed for information and we have members of parliament, including the current Prime Minister, who kowtowed to this media mogul because of the ‘power’ he wielded over their future aspirations.

But behind the repulsive hacking of phones of missing children and the deletion of messages by private investigators, giving the family the belief that their child was still alive; and the sacrifice of a paper and its hardworking staff there is a leadership team that seems to have very little feeling towards the human race. Rupert Murdoch, his son James and Rebekah Brooks have a lot to answer for and personally hope they are brought to account for their actions sooner rather than later.

This story clearly has a long way to go – if it is ever given the opportunity to run its full course. But one can’t help wondering just how much ‘dirt’ these media moguls have on their ‘pray’ and what strings they will pull to ensure their tune is still played out to the public.

The Murdoch bunch knows that the ‘public’ are a less than attentive crowd, who can quickly turn their attention from one issue to another at the drop of a hat – especially if sufficiently motivated. A scandal with the Prime Minister or the head of the Metropolitan Police would probably be enough to change peoples focus from the disgusting hacking claims.

Murdoch hasn’t got this far without knowing how to deflect issues and play people off against each other. So is Murdoch an evil tyrant or a brilliant strategist. Some might admire this man who, through his mafia style, is able to control politicians and big business. They may think he's doing what they believe any good businessman should do – maximising shareholder value.

I didn’t get the memo indicating the changes to a leader’s responsibility myself, but I remember a time when leaders were held accountable for their actions and their organisations. A time when giving an excuse like ‘I didn’t know’ wasn’t acceptable, as it was the very fabric of their job to know (besides they were paid massive salaries to know as well).

If leaders can simple use the phrase ‘I didn’t know’ every time something goes wrong then it looks like the organisational pyramid is about to be turned upside down; and leadership programmes will need to change much of their content.

The Murdoch’s along with Rebekah Brook’s need to step up and face up to their responsibilities, even if it takes them all the way to a public trial and to face the consequences of their actions. Currently too many of the top organisations seem to be portraying a very poor level of leadership and basic judgement.

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