Murdoch’s ‘total victory’ over the press unions may prove his company’s demise…

Now, I am not sure I completely accept the story that Eamonn McCann tells about the demise of the NUJ (it possible, with hindsight at least, to suggest they picked the wrong fight with the wrong man) as an active force within the Murdoch empire, but the washing out of individual conscience of the journalist, certainly at the News of the World, seems to have important factor in the slow undermining of News International’s news product over time:

The absence of any organised expression of the distinct interests and concerns of journalists meant management priorities could be imposed at will. Journalists were hired on short-term contracts, typically of a year or six months. There was no need for any sacking procedure. Anyone who didn’t prove as malleable as the Murdochs, Brooks and Coulsons demanded would be cast adrift when their contract expired. The result was, as phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire has put it, “fear all the time”

That wouldn’t have happened if the NUJ had been on hand.

The assault on the right to union representation has been central to the development of the ethos which generated the scandal. The reason this aspect hasn’t been front and centre in coverage is that to acknowledge the necessity of trade unionism would be to take discussion of the issues which arise down a path where, even today, few want to go

Lord Leveson might like to note that in Ireland, the newly formed Press Council comes with the full co-operation from the NUJ, the UK’s Press Complaints Commission does not. It also has official protection under the 2009 Defamation Act, which means the Press Council cannot be so easily threatened by that legal plaything of the powerful and the wealthy, the law suit.

Great power, even media power, demands powerful brakes. In demanding such a high price from the unions, Mr Murdoch effectively left his company with little defence against the excesses of corporate culture which has seen News International drop from hero to zero in the space of just six short weeks.

, , , , , ,

  • So without the NUJ journalists just stopped being journalists and took the money.

  • And that people on short term contracts saw no need for the NUJ or were exluded by the NUJ. NUJ not a voice that has been distinctively heard over past few months. Failed to reinvent itself in face of new technology and still in a sulk?

  • I think Mr McCann makes a reasonable point so far as it goes in relation to non-NUJ members employed by the Murdoch Empire.
    Where Mr McCanns thesis falls down is that very few journalists (with or without a NUJ card) had the ethics to report whats going on to the authorities or even via the NUJ.
    And very few journalists had the professionalism to even report the scandal.
    Are journalists so naive or so cowardly that they dont know or care whats going on inside their own newsrooms.

    From Journalism accepting that it was “just one rogue reporter” and/or “confined to News International” we can at least be grateful to Mr McCann from moving the narrative on ….to the at least more credible (if self serving notion) that journalists were scared.
    If the NUJ (or indeed individual journalists) are represented at Public Inquiries, Id be tempted to go with McCanns version rather than “rogue reporter” and “nothing to see move along”.

  • Mick Fealty

    That failure to re-invent and divine where the real challenge was is the key point for me. Everything was thrown at the tech change and the concomitant loss of power of the print unions.

    But my key point is that ousting them completely has proved disasterous for Murdoch.

  • An NUJ member would never ever have hacked a phone, and Murdoch titles would then only ever employ charlatans and people completely lacking in integrity, who were obviously swept up by the competition that roared ahead in delivering the insightful and honest reporting that was so lacking at Wapping?

    Don’t think Murdoch is in the disaster zone just yet. Especially as now the initial buzz is gone over his titles an eye is starting to be directed elsewhere…

  • No it hasnt.
    Journalists with NUJ cards and not employed are no “braver” than non NUJ members employed by Murdoch.
    Journalists should in the first instance look to their own failings and spare us “we were only following orders” and “we didnt know anything”.
    Neither will wash with the broader public.

  • Nunoftheabove

    The print unions at the time were in reality not much more than a cornerboyish (actually quite reactionary) racket and Eamonn should not allow all of the principled stuff that sounds good to obscure that simply because he doesn’t think enough people will remember that time or have much recollection of what it was like. Imagine industrial relations like it was in the mid/late 1970s in a national newspaper nowadays with all of the commercial stress they’re under ?

  • Mick Fealty


    Okay, I won’t ‘future’ on that one. As a non union member of many years standing, I’m not for a moment suggesting that union membership guarantees virtue.

    Only that some brakes are better than none. Nor do I suggest that the Irish Press Council is a perfect model, but there are some lessons here.

    There has to be independence and the means to remain independent in the face of pressure from Multi millionaires.

  • The Printers loved Fleet Street.
    Not least because it allowed them to work for several newspapers on the one night, signing on for lump some untaxed nightly payments.
    With several “Michael Mouses” and “Donald Ducks” working in Fleet Street on the one night, it was indeed a racket which a tax avoiding multi millionaire might envy.

    The Printers were not Miners or Steelworkers.
    And its hard to have any sympathy for them.

  • andnowwhat

    It’s been reported that Sarah Payne’s mother’s phone number was on the famous list despite the Met previously saying it was not.

    The Guardo is reporting that the phone was given to Mrs Payne by one Rebekah Brooks no less

  • pippakin

    There really appear to be no depths to which NI and its journalists would not stoop.

    I’m not sure it would have been any better if the NUJ had had any authority there, surely if a contract was not renewed and the journalist concerned felt that the reason was a refusal to break the law, that would have been quite a story in itself.

    Journalists have no one but themselves to blame thrashing about trying to find an excuse does them no good.

  • andnowwhat

    Here ya go Pippa….

    It take a strong stomach to read IMHO

  • pippakin


    I had heard this earlier today. I understand its not yet been confirmed that her phone was hacked but if it was its a new low. Who says with friends like that who needs enemies.

    Brooks is denying it…. well she would say that wouldn’t she…

    I think the NUJ is being rolled out as an excuse, and a flimsy one, for the appalling behaviour of those who should have known better.

  • JAH

    The story about the NOW handing out mobiles to people in difficult situations surfaced a few weeks ago in some quarters, so this is the first evidence of the practice.

    I worked for a very large US corporation which was very anti-union but which was also very clear it wouldn’t countenance dodgy goings on. There was a very clear ethics policy (dotted on walls throughout the offices) and a hotline to a board director. Maybe it was a front but a pretty convincing one. There was no such ethic hotline in NI titles and friends who worked for the titles seem to lose their moral compass.

    So maybe the lack of the NUJ did took away the last ethics left in these organisation. Clearly, if you didn’t agree you left.

  • Nunoftheabove


    Again with the bankrupt relativism ? ‘Yeah ok the workers took the piss but Murdoch was/is a REAL monster’. If your idea of workers’ soldarity is licence to extor, lie, blackmail, bullshit businesses and push them to the wall then no wonder they’re in the place they’re in – nowhere.

    You’re barking up every wrong tree in sight if some of the the frauds of those unions at that time are your shining example of how it should be.

  • Mick Fealty


    You are more than welcome to run moral/legal hazard on your own blog. Please don’t do it on mine!

  • I have been a trade unionist (occasionally active) all my working life (and even into retirement) so Id dearly like to believe the theory that unionised journalists are more thical.
    Unfortunately there seems a case that journalists (whether unionised or not) did some pretty terrible things under the noses of other journalists (unionised or not).
    We were happily told that it was all a one-off.

    Distinctions between unionised journalists and non-unionised journalists just dont work.
    Nor does the distinction between journalists and executives.
    This scandal is likely to land a lot more in the dock….surely something that we all applaud……and I suspect that NUJ will be supplying some legal aid to some defendants.

  • Mark

    Great catfight on Sky News at the moment …

  • NoTA

    So you do not have an opinion on whether the UK would have been a better place if Murdoch had lost the battle of Wapping.Fair enough.

    What was so outrageous about what happened in the ‘Highway’ at Wapping, was the way the MSM allowed the Murdoch’s, Metropolitan police and the neo liberal political elites to write the history of what turned out to be a country changing industrial dispute. When the miners lost, they, their families and communities payed the heartbreaking cost. When Murdoch came out on top at Wapping the whole nation paid the price, especially culturally and politically.

    It is only now the truth is emerging and some still wish to crush it, fearful the old tyrant might live to fight another day and knowing what a vengeful wretch he is, they fear he might ruin their lives, like he has countless others.

    Whenever people who are ignorant of what went on at Wapping tell the tale, they do it straight from the Murdoch song book. Almost the only thing they bring up about the 6000 or so workers who lost their jobs is about a minority who worked on the lump at the weekend.

    The overwhelming majority of the SUN and Times workforce were working on the cards, paying their fair share of UK tax, unlike their boss. They were printers, journalists, cleaners, canteen staff, fitters, sparks, drivers along with countless other trades and none.

    Yet time and again we get the mickey mouse signatures crap. Just like today in the City of London where countless banks, finance house, lawyers etc, break the law by employing illegal immigrants to clean their offices, with incidentally the full knowledge of the Met. Murdoch’s company broke UK lay by employing workers on the lump and paying them in cash. Not once have I ever heard people mention this, but they always remember the workers who signed for this black market cash with a name like mickey mouse. They did this for obvious reasons, but perhaps some folk who condemn them should ask why the companies felt no need to use subterfuge when signing this cash out.

    Mick F, all I would say is I believe it is in the public interest to ridicule the Murdoch’s and expose them for what they were and are.

    As to Leveson, by accepting the tribunal chair, he is a disgrace to his profession. The arrogance of such people is stunning. When I did jury duty some years ago, I was told that if I had ever had any connection with the defendants, even if it was only very slight, for example, say I had attended a social gathering which they also attended, I must say and be excluded from the jury.

    As I wrote Leveson’s arrogance is stunning.

  • Alias

    It’s essentially an argument for the need for legislation to protect whilstleblowers but the Trotskyist Eamonn McCann – somewhat opportunistically – turns it into an argument to promote trade unionism. You can’t fault him for trying!

    However, the UK already has legislation to protect employees who report wrongdoing in the workplace from retribution by their employers so perhaps it’s really an argument for for an end to short-term working contracts since an employee cannot claim that making a disclosure in the public interest grants him an automatic right to have his contract renewed and therefore he has no legal recourse it it isn’t (as it is unlikely to be).

    Either way, I don’t think it is a convincing argument. Ethics are not conditional or whether or not a person will face retribution for opposing wrongdoing but on whether or not he knows the difference between right and wrong. That is to put selfish considerations first and foremost, and to be immoral by default. Unwittingly, Eamonn is claiming that journalists have no moral value system. Fitz would agree.

    The core problem with self-regulation of the press is that is that there isn’t any duty to know involved in its practice. If editors and publishers can claim they didn’t know what was going on then they are in the clear. That undermines self-regulation by creating a situation where those editors and publishers are better off not knowing and thereby better off by not self-regulating. Clearly, self-regulation must involve those editors and publishers making an effort to know as it isn’t possible to self-regulate by turning a blind eye! Ergo, a legal duty to know must be placed upon them. That will remove their ability to escape legal sanction by the simple expedient of turning a blind eye to wrongdoing that is designed to boost their circulation and profits since they will have failed in their duty to know by not knowing.

  • Alias

    The key point is really that the duty to detect wrongdoing must be placed on the employer and not placed (unfairly) on the employee.

  • Nunoftheabove


    I don’t recall you asking me whether the UK would have been a better place if Murdoch had lost the battle of Wapping.

    Let me just go start playing the world’s smallest violin for some of the 1970s union leaders you esteem quite so highly. Their utter refusal to embrace modernization – indeed, to oppose it (progressives, you say ?) – and to refuse allow managers of commercial companies to manage in any recognizabale sense and to insist on some blackmail-based ‘right’ to extort unfair remuneration for mediocre performance made something like Wapping probably inevitable and I don’t say that with anything approaching glee. The ragged trouser-eque David and Goliath picture you attempt to paint is laughable.

    Some of the chancers in the unions induced an equal and opposite reaction from someone like a Murdoch and couldn’t handle it when they met their match. It’s some of the decent, genuinely hard-working rank and file union members who lost out and the blame for that defeat can be shared.

    I would very happily pen a more detailed response but I’m on a mandatory union-agreed T1.5 tea-break (in the pub, natch) on the quarter hour so must down tools now. Sorry, those are the rules, not my job to….etc. The front page really will have to be held until I’m allowed to come back and do any work by my shop steward. My hands are tied comrade.

  • Mick Fealty

    Mick, you went much further than ridicule. I’ve written elsewhere about the Leveson problem without getting in the least personal.

  • Alias

    “Unwittingly, Eamonn is claiming that journalists have no moral value system. Fitz would agree”.

    While I fully take the point that doing the right thing is not conditional on retribution, it goes too far to suggest that I think journalists have no moral value system.
    Many…perhaps even most…do.
    To callously dismiss them as self serving egotists is as as nonsensical as the view that they are all fearless and ethical defenders of the Truth.
    Same for all trades…a mix of good and bad.
    Journalists are no different from car mechanics or plumbers. You are as liable to get a good guy as a con man.
    And no trade likes to see regulation.
    And all trades have an inflated view of their own worth to Society.
    Same for my old trade.
    Same for Journos.

  • Mick F

    You just do not get it, when Murdoch corrupted the whole UK body politic, and abused defenceless people, he made it personal and if you, or people like Levenson are unable to see that god help us, as he will walk away from this scot-free. You seem to want to have a nice intellectual debate about this stuff, without having a clue that these thugs do not go in for that sort of stuff.

    In the week I was watching a TV programe about the old rogue, in which his former butler said, after Murdoch fell out with Anne Diamond, he came home picked up the phone and simply said to a NI editor, “I do not like that woman.” {Channel 4} After which the roof fell in on Diamond’s life. How many more worthy individuals lives have also been destroyed, tell me it is not the duty of a left wing blogger to make this personal, he [And Levenson] represent everything we hate and despise.

    This type of behaviour was even common knowledge out on the darkest reaches of the thames rim, so it must have been common knowledge amongst the media, political and judicial elites. Yet Levenson still accepted the Murdock’s hospitality twice, if he had genuine business with them, it should have been done in business hours in his office, where others recorded what took place.

    We will always differ on this, it does not make me right or you wrong, it is simply a statement by me as to where I am coming from. You must live with your own conscience and I mine.

  • Nunoftheabove


    Whine, whine, whine. It’s all just one big bad monster conspiracy. I can recall a time when the self-respecting and literate left at least understood the difference between the way in which economic systems (those that they did understand) and political alliances operated within that framework on one hand and inverted snobbery about the way in which that high net worth and influential individuals conducted their lives on the other. No longer so, apparently. Funny, one does not recall the ‘official’ left doing much whining about the ruling classes in, say Eastern Europe long after it was clear what was what there. To the contrary, indeed, very well known ‘far left’ figures mourned the collapse of the soviet union and other satellites. Don’t recall the outrage and the bile when, say, Enver Hoxha passed on, for instance. The official left is now clutching at straws to such an extent that it’s adopting entirely reactionary positions on Islamic fundamentalism and aligning itself with some of the most vicious totalitarians on earth. And we ought to take your comments on Anne bloody Diamond and hearsay from Murdoch’s butler seriously ? Jesus, if they ran a character spouting garbage like that in a television cartoon the SWP would be weeping and wailing about grotesque stereotyping and lack of nuance.

  • Alias

    Fitz, it’s essentially the prevailing culture that existed in that workplace and the influence it had on the morality of those who worked there. Some did oppose it, and ergo not all were corrupted by it (assuming all new). Most kept their mouths shut.

    Given that morality is essentially considering how one’s actions might impact on others and modifying accordingly, Eamonn’s argument that journalists would fail to do that, considering only their own selfish interests, is a bleak indictment of them. Since, as you say, it is a foolish claim that doesn’t differentiate between all and some or most, I said he made it unwittingly.

    Murdoch’s hacks are likely to be representative of journalists as a group, and we finally see them exposed as very ordinary and flawed folks rather than the individuals of high integrity and high purpose they have presented themselves as being.

    In future, I suspect, they’ll be treated more like car mechanics with a dodgy quote, and that’s not a bad outcome since that is what they are.

  • Pigeon Toes

    From the Press Complaints commission to me

    “Now that your complaint has been resolved, a short summary of it will soon be available on the Commission’s web site. It will also appear in our next biannual report. Unless we hear to the contrary by xxxx, we will assume you are happy with the summary and are content for information to be released publicly.

    The wording will be as follows:

    Belfast Telegraph

    A woman complained that an article about xxxxx”, whose identity had been revealed to the company after he had expressed concerns about safety procedures, had contained inaccuracies and – by the inclusion of certain information – had identified her husband as the employee concerned.”

    A somewhat ironic proposal.

    BTW Belfast Telegraph still has the original article on their website. It’s as well I’m not rich enough sue ;-D

  • Tweedybird

    Mick, I see Eamonn McCann’ s point, it would have been a contributory factor on the mess the NI finds itself in, as a ex-shop steward in a local factory the owners/management were always trying to diminish the role of the Union. I know some Unions had got carried away with their slavish attitude on keeping with “union rules” but management also would, at every possible opportunity, try to bring the workplace back to the “Victorian” age, this all stems from the Margaret Thatcher era, Wapping etc.. of driving the Unions into the ground. There is nobody, union or otherwise, were able to police the antics of the NOTW. You just wonder if the unions had survived would they have been able to keep in check the practices ( and scandal ) that are now unfolding by this organisation ( NI.)

  • Nunoftheabove


    Maybe they would. Then again, maybe they’d have pushed the paper over the cliff commercially.

  • Alias

    “You just wonder if the unions had survived would they have been able to keep in check the practices ( and scandal ) that are now unfolding by this organisation ( NI.)”

    The unions wouldn’t offer any protection that isn’t already available to workers.

    The workers at NOTW could have used that legislation to report wrongdoing without fear of sanction by their employer but they chose not to bother.

    The issue is a lack of morality among the workforce, and not a lack of legal protection. Unions can’t provide workers with a moral value system, since they already know the difference between right and wrong but choose to put selfish interests first and foremost. What additional protection would they need when they wouldn’t need any protection at all if they had a viable moral system? Morality is about considering the interests of others and not about excluding those interests, considering only your own interests – as they did.

    Therefore, they are immoral; and nothing can be done about that. I suppose you could appeal to their sense of self-interest and finaccially reward them for whistleblowing…

  • Nunoftheabove


    Indeed so . Is there any persuasive evidence that any of the jounos and other staff in the know on this made any attempt of any kind to whistleblow on the illegal practices at NoTW ?