Rupert Murdoch's pisspot pirate returns

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Sending a chill through News Ltd staff, writes Rodney E. Lever, Rupert Murdoch is sending his New York Post pirate Col Allan back to Australia to attempt to rebuild his tattered local newspaper stable.

(Image courtesy New York Magazine.)






RUPERT MURDOCH is sending Col Allan, editor in chief of the New York  Post, to Australia to rebuild the tattered remains of his failing newspapers that once reached the breakfast tables of  three quarters of Australia’s homes. The news is reverberating among journalists around the country.

The name of Col Allan is enough to send a chill through all those who still work for News Limited. One of his notorious characteristics was to use the wash basin in his office as a private urinal when conducting an editorial conference.

Col Allan’s gift for writing snappy headlines appears to be his only journalistic asset. He argues that manipulating the truth to achieve a great headline is what good journalism is about.

(Image courtesy

In a 2007 interview with New York Magazine, Allan described himself as a “swashbuckling pirate” who had none of the normal interests and behaviour of ordinary people. Can a swashbuckling pirate solve all the problems presenting themselves now to the 82-year-old magnate?

Col Allan boasts that he had an odd passing relationship with Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, whom he met in New York in 2007.

Allan says he took Rudd to an

"...East Side gentleman’s club where he got blotto and manhandled the strippers.”

It was a creative and probably exaggerated yarn that might have made a great headline.

(Screenshot from

For  News Corporation as a whole, the future seems very shaky. Waiting in the wings is the full force of the British government that could remove his controlling interest in Sky TV.  The release of an additional set of  secret recordings of meetings he held with his Sun journalists, soon to face the courts on bribery charges, are among the latest additions to his problems.

This month, the Culture, Media and Sport committee invited Rupert Murdoch to reappear answer MPs’ questions about comments he made in that infamous secretly recorded meeting with journalists.

What he said in those recordings was remarkably at odds with what he said in his grillings by a UK parliamentary committee and another by Lord Leveson last year.  To compare the digital revelations, one has to think that there may be two Rupert Murdochs: one who humbly respects the law and  another who thumps the table and encourages his employees to ignore it.

Robert Louis Stevenson experimented with the idea that dual characters can exist together in some human beings. In 1886 he created Dr Henry Jekyll and Mr Hyde in a novel. They were two distinct personalities, with one body and one brain to share as their moods inclined.

When Rupert Murdoch appeared before last year’s British parliamentary inquisition into his affairs, he chose to be contrite. He reeked of  shame and humility — like a schoolboy expecting a severe rap over the knuckles.

Older Australians will recall a past when Frank Packer was called before the Australian government, followed a few years later by his son Kerry. Both Frank and Kerry showed not a sign of embarrassment. Both dominated the room, each in his own time. There were no apologies from them, no expressions of regret. Rather, both left the politicians in the room in a sweat of embarrassment and fear.

Now Rupert Murdoch is to be called in person to explain himself to Britain’s regulatory Office of Communications, Ofcom  (in Wales, it carries scarier name of Y Swyddfa Gyfathrebiadau”). This formidable body controls the licensing of all communications systems within Britain.

Will Rupert be Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde when he places himself before this august body? He will need to persuade them, in the context of his secretly recorded comments and statements denigrating and insulting the British police and government, that he is a fit and proper person to control the most powerful communications facility in the Europe.

He has already separated his newspaper business from his entertainment business as a strategy to improve his reputation. The entertainment branch owns 2oth Century Fox in the US and which, now, is the nominal owner of 39% of  Sky TV shares.

Rupert has been dealing with problems like this for decades.

The Australian Labor government under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating decided in 1986 that the TV licences handed to favoured newspaper proprietors by Robert Menzies should no longer remain in those hands in the interest of media diversity.

Murdoch had swept through Australia to become, as Keating called him, “a Prince of Print.” He could not now also be “a Queen of Screen.”

Forced to relinquish his Australian TV licences, Murdoch abandoned free-to-air TV and took to commercial Pay TV.  He went to England and bought one third of British Sky TV, the maximum allowed then — now he wants to own it all.

In Australia, the Packer family sold the Daily Telegraph to Murdoch,  seeing Channel Nine, the main TV outlet in Sydney and Melbourne, as a more profitable investment.

To tangle with Ofcom won’t be any easier after the secret Exaro digital recordings are played to their committee. A full transcript, more complete than the already widely published revelations, shows that his newspapers were handing out bribes to police and public officials for more than 30 years.

The British parliamentary media committee last year delivered a report that (“this is the most humble day of my life”) Murdoch

'...was not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.'

Ofcom is to examine evidence that Murdoch knew for several decades that his newspaper journalists were bribing police and other public officials. They will determine whether the structural changes made by News Corporation establish that it is “fit and proper” to own Sky.

Scotland Yard’s “Operation Elveden” squad has opened a fresh line of enquiry into payments of public officials other than police.

Another squad of police is investigating whether a Murdoch-owned company in Israel undertook sabotage to cripple a Sky TV rival company called On Digital.

A media analyst, Claire Enders, has declared that Murdoch would be forced to stand down from his current role as chairman and chief executive of 2oth Century Fox before the Ofcom study was completed.

“The transcript of Rupert Murdoch talking to the Sun staff arrested for bribery offences suggests that News International knew of intensive criminality for many years," she said.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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