By Jim Hayes
Rupert Murdoch’s battle with giants like Facebook amazon and google and Netflix, over ultimate control over social media seems to be a bigger bite that might have first seemed to the 87-year old.
It has always been a big ask to tackle these relative newcomers, who can count on huge resources to protect their turf. The response from the mega tycoon has been, to sell a significant part of his business empire, as a means of raising the funds to compete against his rivals.
Murdoch also has a special close relationship with president Donald Trump and they are reputed to talk on a weekly basis, and sometimes even more often. This connection means that this may be a good time to make the move into social media. This would hardly be the first time Murdoch has used political connection to his advantage.
Soon after Murdoch left a meeting, with the Disney company chief, Bob Iger, at his Moroga Vineyard in the Bel Aire hills of Lois Angeles in august last year to work out the sale of 21st Century Fox, Trump is reputed to have called to offer his congratulations. Such is the strength of the connection between the two.
Holding back the deal has been the possibility, that it may contravene United States anti-trust law. But on 21 June, the Department of Justice gave the deal the go ahead. Removal of ownership on paper has been used as a vehicle o get over these anti-trust barriers, because Murdoch can show he is divesting himself from major Fox and Skye News outlets.
What happened is that a large part of the Murdoch business was transferred to Disney. At the same time, under the deal the Murdoch family retains a significant stake in the new entity. But the shift in assets was able to raise $US 70 billion for the Murdoch ware chest. An unintended effect has been that the deal has attracted a bidding war from company called Comcast, the company which among its other holdings owns rival NBC. This has raised share prices and the value of the shares on the table has risen from $US90 billion to $US119 billion. Murdoch is not going to pay out of his pocket.
This could be put into effect and combined with the already existing power bases in conventional media and telecommunications. If there is a need for it, this is where the political connection may be able to pay dividends. To grease the connection, former Fox News executive Sean Hannity, is taking up the post of white house deputy chief of staff in charge of communications.
The consequence will be a major move into social media will be huge. Murdoch has long let it be known that his intention is to impose a system where the user is forced to pay a fee for access through social media to a story or information already owned by a media outlet. This is something that the current social media companies have resisted. But with Murdoch in the game, everything will change, and this is where having holdings in other forms of media will pay off.
For those worried about Murdoch political influence, control over social media will take it to a new level. Although it has significant drawbacks, one thing that can be said about the present situation, is that it at least provides some space for those who usually do not have the power and connections to have a media voice.
Murdoch style control would block out this voice, as it converts the medium into a propaganda weapon for the Murdoch view of the world. Above all else, Rupert Murdoch is a political animal, out to remake the world in the image of his own political viewpoint. He is a champion of what these days is called libertarianism.
This is a term used to cover the call for as little government regulation and involvement as possible, with the maximum right to do business as one wishes and elevating private property rights to the highest level. Freedom is reduced to the right of business to carry on without restriction, and the right to free speech as the right not to be criticised for it. Thus, there should be no welfare state and the market should be in absolute command, as decreed by natural law.
For those of us who live in a different reality, this a is a scary prospect. Murdoch’s politics mean that control over social media will be used to push his brave new world, where anyone not going along with it are acting against natural law and must therefore be prevented from doing so.