Leading Article: Tycoon who taints news

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The Independent Online
A NEWSPAPER'S lifeblood is its credibility. We may miss a story or we may get only half the story, but we are of value to you only to the extent you are prepared to credit our attempt to get things right. If, say, our foreign correspondents write about conversations with politicians or peasants, business leaders or dissidents, they will supply their own interpretation and analysis based on their own experience. There is no question of varnishing, filtration, second-guessing or consultation with some boss about his commercial interests: what you see is what you get.

As the full extent of Rupert Murdoch's engagement with the Chinese regime becomes clear, so does his profligacy with his newspapers' capacity to inspire that trust. His editors take his shilling and dance to his tune, wiggling their hips to entertain foreign potentates sitting on their divans. His newspaper, The Times, it is true, always enjoyed a reputation greater than its history warranted: this was the newspaper, after all, which had for decades been in the pocket of Tory politicians. During the First World War it proved to be a compliant tool for profiteering magnates. On the eve of the Second it became a willing accomplice of dictators. Against that backdrop its surrender to Murdoch signifies only because of the hypocrisy involved in pretending (as The Times still does, at great length, especially on the subject of Europe) to speak for the British nation while bending its reportage, let alone its editorialising, to the whims and profit margins of its owner.

It seems that once in the Far East Murdoch's men are transformed; they look like travelling salesmen. But on their return - we are supposed to believe - they revert, once again, to speaking freely. Mr Murdoch has just about ripped away whatever tattered remnants were left of his newspapers' pretensions to be concerned with truth. Let's say it out loud. What reader of any Murdoch title can really trust any story or commentary or analysis that touches the interests of Rupert Murdoch? And let's not forget how extensive they are. This could mean that that nothing in, say, The Times to do with sports, the media, North American politics, South-east Asia, China or Australian economics and politics seems free of taint.

The Sun's veracity has been a jest for years. Many credulous people still hoped where they did not believe that somehow The Times, a grand old institution, would keep its hands clean. We now must have the gravest doubts. Rupert Murdoch is an agent of moral debilitation. Across the globe, he seems to be able to turn people capable of doing an honest job into time-servers and courtiers. None of us can ever read any of the words they write without a shudder of contempt.