A rare complaint by a News Corp unit about reportage of it and boss Rupert Murdoch has been “largely lost”, according to a UK publisher.
The Guardian has reported that the BBC’s complaints unit had dismissed complaints over its ‘Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty’ documentary, with the exception of a section on “Tory sleaze stories”.
Media editor Jim Waterson says complaints made by News UK over the series – which has also been shown in other markets including Australia – have led to a year-long dispute following objections that it “implied (Murdoch) posed a threat to liberal democracy”.
News UK business complained that the BBC Two documentary unfairly suggested Murdoch “exercised malign political influence” through his ownership of news outlets, complaining the programme was biased and failed to give enough weight to more positive appraisals of Murdoch’s career.
In particular, News objected to the lack of coverage of Murdoch’s financial successes in the world of business, which might have led viewers to reach a different conclusion about the relative success of his career.
Waterson says that while criticisms of Murdoch’s impact on the media industry around the world are common – it is currently the subject of an a Senate inquiry into media diversity in Australia, currently adjourned because of pandemic lockdowns – it is rare for him to pursue an objection to such coverage through a complaints process.
Although the three-part series was first broadcast in July 2020, the BBC’s internal editorial complaints unit has only just ruled on whether its content met the public broadcaster’s standards.
“It dismissed most of News UK’s objections that the documentary was unfair because it gave too much weight to Murdoch’s opponents, gave too much credence to the views of people associated with the press regulation campaign Hacked Off, or that the programmes substantially misrepresented the scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World,” he says.
The BBC investigation concluded that while “some contributors did express concern about the nature of Mr Murdoch’s influence”, it was a matter of personal opinion which individual contributors were entitled to express, and not a basis for inferring an editorial line on the part of the programme makers.
However, the complaints unit did agree that the documentary “went too far in implying that a series of tabloid ‘sleaze’ stories in the Murdoch-owned Sun and News of the World, exposing the private lives of Conservative MPs in the run up to the 1997 general election, were related to Murdoch’s decision to back Tony Blair’s New Labour”.
The Guardian says the version of the documentary that is still available on the BBC iPlayer service has been re-edited to remove this section.
The three-part documentary focused heavily on Murdoch’s private life and the internal family rows involving his wives and children, including archive footage of him with his young family. Although many of the individuals interviewed were critical of Murdoch, it also included commentary from some former his former editors and executives.
In Australia, the BBC channel on Murdoch’s Foxtel pay-TV network, “chose not to air the programme”, but Waterson says it denied this was due to its relationship with Murdoch’s business.
Instead the programme was shown on national broadcaster the ABC’s free-to-air channel, which – as Waterson points out – is a frequent target of Murdoch-owned news outlets.
Pictured: former British prime minister Tony Blair with News UK’s Rebekah Brooks. A still introducing the documentary’s first episode adds that a complaint about the programme has been upheld since broadcast. “A line of commentary has been added at 23.37, ‘it had been happening for years’, to clarify that the images included in the montage refer to the historic power of the tabloid press.”