Rupert Murdoch

Analysis: For Rupert Murdoch, Brooks' verdict comes with a price

While Brooks' acquittal will be a relief for the octogenarian media tycoon, his political influence is in doubt even as business thrives

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2014, 4:49am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2014, 4:49am

The acquittal of Rupert Murdoch's protegee over phone hacking at his News of the World tabloid is a relief for the 83-year-old tycoon and his businesses, although his 40-year spell over British politics is probably still broken for good.

A jury yesterday found former News of the World editor Andy Coulson guilty of conspiracy to hack into voicemail messages. But Murdoch's protegee, Rebekah Brooks, was cleared of those charges.

That suggests that illegal activity - rampant at the tabloid in its hunt for scoops about the rich and famous - had not penetrated deep into senior management at Murdoch's News Corp, and may reduce the risk that Murdoch's global businesses could face corporate charges in Britain or in the United States.

But Murdoch will probably never again hold the influence he once had, symbolised by Coulson who had moved from the editorship of the News of the World into Downing Street as Prime Minister David Cameron's media chief. "I don't think you can expect members of the Murdoch family to be in and out of Downing Street anytime soon," said Paul Farrelly, a lawmaker with the opposition Labour Party and a member of the parliamentary group that had investigated the scandal.

Murdoch's US$86 billion media empire is now well prepared for any further claims. Arguably, the restructuring that followed the scandal has only made the businesses stronger.

"His political clout is no longer evident," former Murdoch editor Roy Greenslade said. "But if we use the metaphor of a liner hitting an iceberg, he has managed to patch it up so successfully it is sailing on into the future.

"He's still the captain on the bridge. And given his age and the fact it was the most humble day of his life, he's survived in remarkable spirits."

Much has happened since the tumultuous days of July 2011, when revelations emerged that the News of the World had illegally eavesdropped on phone messages of just about anyone who might make headlines, from movie stars to cabinet ministers to a teenaged murder victim.

Murdoch shut the 168-year-old News of the World, the paper that had first brought him to Britain and helped launch an expansion that has resulted in today's sprawling global empire.

Despite the relatively small size of the British newspaper operations in its global media empire, the scandal wiped billions of dollars off his company's market valuation and threw the media magnate's position into jeopardy for the first time.

Although his grip on his business empire is now in no doubt, away from the boardroom Murdoch's position is less certain, with his peculiar hold over British politics likely broken for good.

Ever since Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Party took office in 1979, the shadow of Murdoch has hung over the corridors of power in the Westminster seat of government.

In 1995, Tony Blair of the centre-left Labour Party flew across the world to address a News Corp event on Hayman Island off Australia.

Two years later he took power, with the backing of Murdoch's right-leaning The Sun.

In 2008, the then-opposition Conservative leader David Cameron interrupted a family holiday to meet Murdoch on his yacht.

Two years later, Cameron was elected prime minister with Coulson as his media chief.

"It would be a grave mistake to believe that because the Murdoch empire has had its wings clipped that somehow the influence doesn't exist," a senior cabinet minister under Blair who was targeted by News of the World hackers said.