William Shawcross: Murdoch Has Been the Bravest Media Owner in Britain in the Last 40 Years

Roundup: Media's Take

William Shawcross's most recent book is Allies: the United States, Britain, Europe and the War in Iraq.

The real question raised by Tom Watson's self-regarding assertion about Rupert Murdoch's "fitness" to run a media company is whether Watson himself (and those MPs who voted with him) are themselves fit for purpose. We usually criticise foreign politicians or governments when they try to interfere with their free press. Watson wants to do the same; he wants Murdoch to be divested of his company.
This is not a matter of principle. Through all the long years (too long, in my view) of the Sun's support for Blair and Brown, Watson and his friends made no such complaints. But in 2009 Brown, as we know, was enraged when the Sun switched to the Conservatives. According to Andrew Neil and Murdoch himself, he vowed revenge on Murdoch's company. This is it. Watson is the instrument of Brown's fury – he is fiercely partisan, not fiercely principled.
There is no question that serious wrongdoing took place at the News of the World, both in the original hacking and in the company's failure to pursue and reveal what went wrong. Rupert and James Murdoch have each acknowledged that; they and the company and many of those who work for it are paying a terrible price for these failures. Those who hate Murdoch will have simple reactions: "Serves him right" and "About time too".
Hatred of Murdoch is a fierce and, in my view, corrosive emotion. Nothing I say will alleviate it. But here goes: Rupert Murdoch has been the bravest and most radical media owner in Britain in the last 40 years...

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