Elisabeth Murdoch: Scandal underlines need for 'rigorous values'

Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 2:01pm

Elisabeth Murdoch: Scandal underlines need for 'rigorous values'

By Peter Bale

CNN

EDINBURGH, Scotland (CNN) -- Elisabeth Murdoch has stepped publicly into the debate around media morality, saying newspapers controlled by her father Rupert's company had fallen short of the values he had taught her at the breakfast table.

In a deeply personal speech about her passion for the power of television to media leaders in Scotland on Thursday, she critiqued her brother James's championing of the profit motive at the same event three years ago. She also defended the positive role of the British Broadcasting Corporation in public life and as a "catalyst" to the British creative economy.

But it will be her comments on the hacking scandal swirling around her father's British newspaper empire that will get most attention in reporting her lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival. Previously only overheard comments attributed to Elisabeth had surfaced, suggesting she believed her brother and former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks had ruined the company.

News Corporation, she said, "is currently asking itself some very significant and difficult questions about how some behaviors fell so far short of its values," referring to a crisis which has enmeshed the company in accusations of illegal phone hacking, improper payments to officials and excessive political influence.

In comments which will be interpreted as implicit criticism of the culture her father created when building News Corp up from its newspaper origins in South Australia, Elisabeth said the scandal showed the importance of any organization having a "rigorous set of values."

She said the affair and the subsequent judicial inquiry into the British print media, its behavior and connections to politicians had exposed "an unsettling dearth of integrity" across many institutions. She hoped a new regulatory regime would be light touch and protect a free press.

A major television producer in her own right whose company, Shine, creates or owns shows such as "Ugly Betty," "The Hour," "Spooks" and "Masterchef," Elisabeth is the third member of the Murdoch family to deliver the annual MacTaggart lecture after James three years ago, and her father in 1989.

British media writers will seize on her comments about her brother's attack on the BBC in 2009, in which he branded it a "chilling" influence because of its massive backing from a tax on TV owners. In remarks reminiscent of individualist philosopher Ayn Rand, James had said "the only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit."

Elisabeth took a different tone from her brother's, saying profit was not a goal in itself and that "profit without purpose is a recipe for disaster."

In another subtle twist in her speech, Elisabeth said she ascribed to the view of renowned British television drama writer the late Dennis Potter that "the job of television is to make hearts pound." Observers with long memories recalled that Potter died of a cancer which he said he had nicknamed "Rupert" because of his dislike of Murdoch and his influence on British culture.

However, Elisabeth far from disowned her father or her brother.

She said how much she had admired her father's determination to "challenge the old world order on behalf of the people" and that she had learned over the breakfast table the importance of a life of purpose and "a belief in better" - echoing the slogan of the Sky satellite network her father created in Britain and where she worked before founding her production company, also now owned by News.

In comments on the future of television, likely to be less well covered than the hacking scandal and critique of James, she urged independent television producers to scale to reach a global market and to embrace the internet and the importance of social networking and technology more than they had.

"There is no reason for us to be afraid if we learn and learn quickly," she said to a home audience of television executives almost universally afraid of YouTube, Google and the internet itself. "We need to adapt as fast as the audience," she said.

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