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By Sandy, for Inpui.com


Rupert Murdoch used to be one of the most powerful men in media; some would say the most powerful. But over the past few months he’s proven that when the mighty fall, they fall hard. Two of his newspapers, News of the World and the Wall Street Journal Europe have been hit by major scandals with the result that one was shut down and one has lost its publisher. With the media under the spotlight all over the world, these scandals have once again brought up the $64 000 question: does the media need to be regulated?


China certainly thinks so. The country has the strictest control over media in the world. Virtually everything is censored and if the powers that be think that any particular piece of news will make the population think in a way that is not favourable to the status quo, it is done away with. You won’t find it in newspapers, on TV or even on the net. Several European countries are following suit and South Africa is in serious danger of losing its media freedom. Its level of press freedom has already been downgraded.


Freedom of expression and right to information activists are outraged at the mere suggestion that media needs to be regulated and rightly so, but the manner in which several branches of the media have behaved has cast a shadow on the industry’s reputation as a whole.


Let’s look at the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) debacle. Andrew Langhoff is, or was, the publisher of WSJ Europe. On Thursday 13 October he stepped down from his position (or was forced to step down) after it was found that he had behaved in a manner that breached the editorial integrity of the paper. The matter has to do with Langhoff cooking the circulation numbers. Apparently he and Executive Learning Partnership (ELP), a consulting firm, had a deal whereby ELP agreed to buy 12 000 copies of the paper for only one cent (Euro) so that WSJ Europe could maintain its circulation numbers.


In an effort to put out the fire, WSJ has released a press release that says, among other things, that such practice is common in the industry. It has further criticised The Guardian, which ran with the story, of “inflammatory characterisation … replete with untruths and malign interpretations”.


Some public relations agency is earning its money.


Given that at least three more of Murdoch’s publications are under investigation and that The Guardian is the paper than has given the most coverage to News of the World’s hacking trials and tribulations, it’s no wonder that Rupert Murdoch is feeling aggrieved.


In South Africa the matter is more political. The media has been accused of attacking the ruling party, the ANC, and devoting undue column space to negative press. The party has tried to combat this by launching its own “state-approved” newspaper but still feels that it is not enough.


Greed, political posturing, industry positioning and power make for bad bed-fellows, but are they reason enough for governments to impose tight regulations on the media industry?


The matter is highly flammable and one that will not be resolved cleanly or quickly.


About the about: Sandy writes for a number of different blogs, on a number of different topics, including PR media, advertising, travel, technology and the environment.

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