Thursday, July 21, 2011
THE MURDOCH DEBACLE STARTED THERE
When I visited London in January I had arranged to meet the former Tory MP Sir Teddy Taylor. In his autobiography ‘Teddy Boy Blue’ he had covered his meetings with Gaddafi in Libya. We were meant to meet over dinner to discuss those encounters in relation to Lockerbie. I was struck down with a flu type bug so cancelled our meeting till I returned in May by which time of course the world had moved on and Gaddafi was front page news for different reasons.
Similarly in May I visited the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell to see the small patio dedicated to the printers who had lost their lives in the Spanish Civil War. Also at the Marx Memorial Library was the exhibition “News International Wapping – 25 Years On”. Subtitled as the strike that made the modern media it details the history of Murdoch in the UK and the violent confrontations of the Wapping dispute.
When I viewed it I did so largely out of recent social and political historical interest. Little did I know that within weeks, just like Libya, Wapping would again be propelled to the front of the UK’s news with the escalation of the phone hacking scandal and the resulting closure of the News of the World.
The curator Ann Field tells me well over 500 people have viewed the exhibition at the Marx Memorial Library. A fair enough number for such a venue. However, if the truth was told, if five million visited it still wouldn’t be enough. For to see the current scandal in its full context you have to go back to 1986.
The exhibition tells us the Wapping conspiracy involved Rupert Murdoch, his henchmen the EETPU and Farrar & Co, the company’s and the queen’s solicitors, who advised News International on how to get rid of its workers. They wrote: “the cheapest way would be to dismiss employees while participating in a strike.”
The importance played by Murdoch’s UK press holdings in building his empire is detailed by Granville Williams of the Campaign for Press & Broadcasting Freedom. He states: “Pre-Wapping his Fleet Street papers generated 45 per cent of Murdoch’s profits. Post-Wapping the boost in profits from the papers funded his global expansion. He acquired the Twentieth Century Fox film studio, created the Fox TV network in the States, and launched Sky in the UK.”
At the exhibition I met Jo Chesterman. Her husband, Fred, had been a driver for one of Murdoch’s newspapers and she was propelled in to forming the women’s support group, largely by the wives of the former striking miners. Jo’s photographs and first hand report from the frontline made riveting viewing and listening. One of the pundits on TV recently linked the closeness between the Murdoch Empire and the Met Police, who were wined and dined during the phone hacking investigation then offered lucrative jobs, to the Wapping dispute. One of Jo’s most sickening photographs was of a demonstrating print worker who had each arm grabbed by a police officer, walked fast in to a lamppost then let go. He collapsed to the ground his face smashed and covered in blood. His stunned anguish stared out at me.
From July 25 the exhibition moves to TUC Congress House for three weeks. So large is the demand to see it thanks to the Murdoch crisis that it has numerous other dates and venues both to the end of 2011 and in to 2012. If you haven’t yet seen it I strongly recommend you do. The Murdoch debacle started there.
(A version of the above article has appeared in Panorama and other publications: an updated version appeared in the London Progressive Journal on February 28 2012)