Rupert Murdoch was up to his old tricks at the weekend, this time diverting attention from pressure that is about to be applied to himself and son James in London.
Observers of Rupert have noticed down the years that whenever he’s under pressure in an interview (such as before the House of Commissions Committee investigating phone hacking last year), Rupert will come up with a comment on someone or something, or an outrageous remark that switches the focus to whatever he said, rather than the issue at hand.
In last year’s appearance before the Commons Committee, Murdoch was assisted by the grandstanding idiot who attempted to assault him with a cream pie, and then by wife Wendi who whacked the cream-pie man, thereby diverting attention away from the obfuscation that Murdoch was trying to baffle the committee with.
So it was no surprise then that Murdoch returned to Twitter at the weekend (as he has done twice earlier this year) to remind us that the old obfuscator was back on deck. He ridiculed the UK government’s “mad” plans to lend more money to the International Monetary Fund and criticised its energy, education and tax policies: all this on Saturday after arriving in London ahead of his appearance at the Leveson inquiry on Wednesday.
His first target was Britain’s pledge of nearly £10 billion pounds to help the IMF tackle any fallout from the eurozone crisis, as well as a new tax on hot takeaway snacks put forward by finance minister George Osborne. (That’s old news, it was in the UK budget in March and has festered as a low-key political story). The story involves the government’s so-called “pasty tax”, a new levy that means freshly baked hot food (such as a pasty) sold in any shop will for the first time incur the VAT sales tax.
“Back in Britain,” Murdoch said in one message. “Govt sending IMF another ten bn to the euro. Must be mad. Not even U.S. or China chipping in. Same time taxing hot food.” Rupert is obviously a gourmet and wants to protect the tax-free hot pasty.
And the money for the IMF is for a “firewall that could protect Murdoch’s main European TV markets in Italy and Germany. In Italy, Sky Italia is the country’s major satellite broadcaster, and in Germany, is struggling but growing. An IMF financial firewall, backed by money from the UK and Australia, plus China, Brazil and other countries, would help stabilise the eurozone and protect Murdoch’s media interests. That’s a rare example of Murdoch not understanding where his best interests lie and preferring the jibe to the clever quip.
And, last week saw business as usual in Germany where the financially strapped Sky Deutschland (49.9% by News Corp), grabbed a greater share of the country’s first division soccer competition, paying nearly double the amount.
Sky retained key broadcasting rights to main matches in the German Bundesliga. Sky Deutschland currently pays between €225 million ($US295.7 million) and €275 million a season for a package that includes rights for live Bundesliga broadcasts via satellite and cable. It will pay €485.7 million under the new deal, which includes rights to more platforms, including — IPTV — as well as web and mobile TV.
In another comment, Murdoch attacked the government over the building of wind turbines to generate greener energy. “English spring countryside as beautiful as ever if and when sun appears! About to be wrecked by uneconomic ugly bird killing windmills. Mad.” That has been going on now for the best part of the past decade, so Murdoch is late to an issue, as usual (when it suits him).
And he then criticised the state of publicly funded education in the UK as a “crime against the young”. “Only one answer, really fix public education and give everyone equal opportunity,” he Tweeted. News Corp has a growing education testing and resources business, so there’s the usual conflict of interest for Murdoch.
Of course there was no comment about the latest arrests last week of the former royal editor of The Sun over a corruption charges. Nor was there any remarks on Twitter of a surge in the number of new civil claims for damages over alleged News of the World phone hacking: 46 more cases were disclosed in the UK High Court on Friday.
London papers reported that at a case management conference at the High Court in London on Friday, Hugh Tomlinson, QC, representing victims of alleged phone hacking, told Mr Justice Vos that he had 44 new cases filed while two others had submitted their claims via another legal representative. And the court was told that a further 200 new claims will be filed over the coming months.
The new cases are part of a second wave of civil actions following the settlement of more than 50 cases earlier this year including claims by Jude Law, Charlotte Church and Lord Prescott.
The court was told by Tomlinson that News International had received 100 requests for discovery of preliminary disclosure. He said there were 4791 potential phone-hacking victims, of which 1892 had been contacted by the police. The police believed 1174 were “likely victims”.
Murdoch is expected to appear for at least six hours of questioning before Mr Justice Leveson next Wednesday night, our time. He will be under oath. That will be interesting. Son James appears the day before. This morning’s Guardian has a good backgrounder on Robert Jay QC, the man who will do the questioning on behalf of the inquiry.
The Ruperster clearly blames the UK government of Prime Minister David Cameron for the pressure on himself, son James and the company over the hacking and bribery allegations, and not his slack management and trusting courtiers like Les Hinton and Rebekah Brooks. Murdoch clearly feels that Cameron should have protected Murdoch and News in exchange for the support his papers gave the Conservatives (but not the coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats) at the last election.
It’s an odd world view inside that 81-year-old head, but he’s still as cunning as ever.