A Present for Murdoch

Article excerpt

The Bush Administration will make sure that no Grinch spoils Rupert Murdoch's holiday season. By the New Year, Murdoch's News Corporation will be in control of the country's largest direct-broadcast satellite service, DirecTV. The takeover of this company, with its 11 million subscribers, will greatly increase Murdoch's power over the American TV landscape. It will also mean that conservatives will have an even greater ability to push their agenda. Both the Justice Department and Michael Powell's FCC are on board to rubber-stamp the arrangement, in deference to the Administration's indebtedness to Murdoch. With Fox News a 24/7 commercial for the Bush White House and with the Weekly Standard's constant cheerleading, Murdoch is an especially valuable friend.

This latest deal--which means, as the News Corp. website proudly proclaims, that it rules the skies over "five continents"--should have raised the hackles of Democrats, especially the presidential contenders, who could have pointed to the danger of ever more media consolidation. But sadly, Democratic leaders, unions and progressive advocates have been silent, allowing the merger to sail through the review process. Potential critics could also have seized on issues of corporate governance, supposedly an area of greater concern in the post-Enron era. Murdoch has placed several old cronies on the board of Hughes Electronics, owner of DirecTV, to serve as reputedly "independent" directors. But they are unlikely to challenge any business plan that would harm News Corp.'s interests over the concerns of shareholders or competitors.

Murdoch's political success with this merger didn't depend solely on his ability to have Fox News support the Administration and give Republican politicians airtime. He also worked the old-fashioned way. Murdoch personally met with FCC commissioners several times, as well as with key lawmakers. From 1999 to 2002, his company spent almost $10 million on its lobbying operations. It has already poured $200,000 in contributions into the 2004 election, having donated nearly $1.8 million during the 2000 and 2002 campaigns. The majority of its funds (unlike those of many of its show biz brethren) go to the GOP.

The acquisition of DirecTV makes Murdoch one of the most powerful US media moguls--with a vast "triple play" TV empire in broadcasting, cable and now satellite. News Corp. will be free to create new channels, since Murdoch will have easy access to the immense channel capacity of his new US satellite service. For example, it has already announced that Fox News is considering several spinoffs. In addition, DirecTV service has the capability to beam a channel into a particular city. Hello, Fox News Cleveland, Atlanta and Los Angeles. …