Ed Miliband calls for the break-up of the Murdoch Empire

Labour leader steps up campaign on media, as poll shows his personal rating is up seven points in a

Ed Miliband has called for Rupert Murdoch's influence on the British media to be scaled back.

In an interview with the Observer, he said: "I think that we've got to look at the situation whereby one person can own more than 20 per cent of the newspaper market, the Sky platform and Sky News. I think it's unhealthy because that amount of power in one person's hands has clearly led to abuses of power within his organisation. If you want to minimise the abuses of power then that kind of concentration of power is frankly quite dangerous."

MIliband describes how he heard the news that Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked by the News of the World. He says that Ed Balls received a text message with the news, and "I literally could not believe it. I could not believe it was true. I could not believe that it had happened."

He adds that he hopes the media landscape has now shifted, and the next election will be fought differently. "So many people have believed that you can't win without Murdoch, you can't win without the Sun. But now the reverse might be the case. I think the endorsement of Murdoch will be a pretty double-edged one at the next general election."

A poll for the Independent on puts the Labour leader's personal approval rating up seven points on a month ago (from 18 per cent to 27 per cent).

Miliband's intervention follows a turbulent 48 hours for News Corporation and for the Metropolitan police, as the latter came under scrutiny for the close friendship between officers Sir Paul Stephenson and John Yates and former News of the World deputy editor Neil Wallis, who has now been arrested in connection with the phone-hacking enquiry.

Friday saw the resignation of News International Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton, the chief executive of Dow Jones -- one of Rupert Murdoch's key lieutenants in America. He joined News Corp when a teenager, working on Murdoch's first paper, the Adelaide News.

Murdoch himself spent the afternoon with the parents of murder victim Milly Dowler, whose phone was hacked by the News of the World. The Dowler family's lawyer said Murdoch "held his head in his hands" as he said sorry several times.The News Corp chief took out personally signed adverts in all Britain's major newspapers to apologise for the NoW's actions.

In a series of dramatic developments, it was also revealed:

  • David Cameron invited his former communications chief Andy Coulson to Chequers in March, after he had resigned from No 10 over the hacking scandal.
  • Ed Miliband said Sir Paul Stephenson, the head of the Metropolitan Police, had questions to answer about the hiring of ex-NoW executive Neil Wallis as an adviser after he left the paper. It has emerged that both Stephenson and fellow Met officer John Yates were friends with Wallis, who has now been arrested in the course of the hacking enquiry.
  • The FBI have reportedly begun an investigation into allegations that the phones of 9/11 victims were hacked.
  • The actor Jude Law is to sue The Sun over allegations it hacked his phone while he was in New York, potentially drawing News International into an investigation by the American authorities. He is already suing the NoW. News International have called the claim "a deeply cynical and deliberately mischievous attempt to draw The Sun into the phone-hacking issue".

Although Brooks's resignation may appease public anger, the departure of Hinton is seen by some as even more significant. He worked for News Corp for more than 50 years, and is the only person from the US operation to resign in connection with the phone-hacking scandal.

Hinton told a parliamentary committee in 2009 that there was no evidence the hacking was widespread. In his resignation statement yesterday, he said: "In September 2009, I told the committee there had never been any evidence delivered to me that suggested the conduct had spread beyond one journalist. If others had evidence that wrongdoing went further, I was not told about it."

After an apology for "the pain caused to innocent people", he added: "I want to express my gratitude to Rupert for a wonderful working life. My admiration and respect for him are unbounded. He has built a magnificent business since I first joined 52 years ago and it has been an honour making my contribution."

In Brooks statement, meanwhile, she spoke of the "deep sense of responsibility for the people we have hurt". She added:

I want to reiterate how sorry I am for what we now know to have taken place.

I have believed that the right and responsible action has been to lead us through the heat of the crisis. However my desire to remain on the bridge has made me a focal point of the debate.

This is now detracting attention from all our honest endeavours to fix the problems of the past.

Therefore I have given Rupert and James Murdoch my resignation. While it has been a subject of discussion, this time my resignation has been accepted.

Rupert's wisdom, kindness and incisive advice has guided me throughout my career and James is an inspirational leader who has shown me great loyalty and friendship.

I would like to thank them both for their support.

Last week, Brooks offered her resignation to Rupert Murdoch but was refused. When he flew to London last week, he said that she was his "first priority".

This follows mounting pressure from key figures in and around News Corp. The Daily Telegraph reported that Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth had expressed rage about Brooks' position, telling friends that she had "f*cked the company".

Meanwhile, News Corp's second largest shareholder, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Al Saud, told the BBC's Newsnight on Thursday that Brooks should resign if there was any suggestion that she knew about phone-hacking at News of the World. He said: "I will not accept to deal with a company that has a lady or a man that has any sliver of doubts on her or his integrity."

Tom Mockridge, the head of Sky Italia, will replace Brooks as chief executive of News International with immediate effect.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Angela Merkel's call for a burqa ban sets a disturbing precedent

The German chancellor's plan for a partial ban of the full-face veil is a clearly political move, which will do more to harm those women who wear it than protect them.

 

In these febrile times, women’s freedom and autonomy has become a bargaining chip in the poker game of public propaganda — and that goes double for brown, Muslim and migrant women. Angela Merkel should know as well as any other female politician how demeaning it is to be treated as if what you wear is more important than what you say and what you do. With the far-right on the rise across Europe, however, the German chancellor has become the latest lawmaker to call for a partial ban on the burqa and niqab.

We are told that this perennial political football is being kicked about in the name of liberating women. It can have nothing to do, of course, with the fact that popular opinion is lurching wildly to the right in western democracies, there’s an election in Germany next year, and Merkel is seen as being too soft on migration after her decision to allow a million Syrian refugees to enter the country last year. She is also somehow blamed for the mob attacks on women in Cologne, which have become a symbol of the threat that immigration poses to white women and, by extension, to white masculinity in Europe. Rape and abuse perpetrated by white Europeans, of course, is not considered a matter for urgent political intervention — nor could it be counted on to win back voters who have turned from Merkel's party to the far-right AFD, which wants to see a national debate on abortion rights and women restricted to their rightful role as mothers and homemakers.

If you’ll allow me to be cynical for a moment, imposing state restrictions on what women may and may not wear in public has not, historically, been a great foundation for feminist liberation. The move is symbolic, not practical. In Britain, where the ban is also being proposed by Ukip the services that actually protect women from domestic violence have been slashed over the past six years — the charity Refuge, the largest provider of domestic violence services in the UK, has seen a reduction in funding across 80% of its service contracts since 2011.

It’s worth noting that even in western countries with sizeable Muslim minorities, the number of women who wear full burqa is vanishingly small. If those women are victims of coercion or domestic violence, banning the burqa in public will not do a thing to make them safer — if anything, it will reduce their ability to leave their homes, isolating them further.

In the wake of the Brexit vote, racist and Islamophobic attacks spiked in the UK. Hate crimes nationally shot up by 42% in the two weeks following the vote on 23 June. Hate crimes against Muslim women increased by over 300%, with visibly Muslim women experiencing 46% of all hate incidents. Instances of headscarves being ripped off have become so common that self-defense videos are being shared online, showing women how to deflect the “hijab grab”. In this context, it is absurd to claim that politicians proposing a burqa ban care about protecting women: the move is transparently designed to placate the very people who are making Muslim women feel unsafe in their own communities.

When politicians talk about banning the burqa, the public hears an attack on all Islamic headscarves — not everyone knows the difference between the hijab, the niqab and the burqa, and not everyone cares. The important thing is that seeing women dressed that way makes some people feel uncomfortable, and desperate politicians are casting about for ways to validate that discomfort.

Women who actually wear the burqa are not invited to speak about their experiences or state their preferences in this debate. On this point, Islamic fundamentalists and panicked western conservatives are in absolute agreement: Muslim women are provocative and deserve to be treated as a threat to masculine pride. They should shut up and let other people decide what’s best for them.

I know Muslim women who regard even the simple hijab as an object of oppression and have sworn never to wear one again. I also know Muslim women who wear headscarves every day as a statement both of faith and of political defiance. There is no neutral fashion option for a woman of Islamic faith — either way, men in positions of power will feel entitled to judge, shame and threaten. Either choice risks provoking anger and violence from someone with an opinion about what your outfit means for them. The important thing is the autonomy that comes with still having a choice.

A law which treats women like children who cannot be trusted to make basic decisions about their bodies and clothing is a sexist law; a law that singles out religious minorities and women of colour as especially unworthy of autonomy is a racist, sexist law. Instituting racist, sexist laws is a good way to win back the votes of racist, sexist people, but, again, a dreadful way of protecting women. In practice, a burqa ban, even the partial version proposed by Merkel which will most likely be hard to enforce under German constitutional law, will directly impact only a few thousand people in the west. Those people are women of colour, many of them immigrants or foreigners, people whose actual lives are already of minimal importance to the state except on an abstract, symbolic level, as the embodiment of a notional threat to white Christian patriarchy. Many believe that France's longstanding burqa ban has increased racial tensions — encapsulated by the image earlier this year of French police surrounding a woman who was just trying to relax with her family on the beach in a burkini. There's definitely male violence at play here, but a different kind — a kind that cannot be mined for political capital, because it comes from the heart of the state.

This has been the case for centuries: long before the US government used the term“Operation Enduring Freedom” to describe the war in Afghanistan, western politicians used the symbolism of the veil to recast the repeated invasion of Middle Eastern nations as a project of feminist liberation. The same colonists who justified the British takeover of Islamic countries abroad were active in the fight to suppress women’s suffrage at home. This is not about freeing women, but about soothing and coddling men’s feelings about women.

The security argument is even more farcical: border guards are already able to strip people of their clothes, underwear and dignity if they get the urge. If a state truly believes that facial coverings are some sort of security threat, it should start by banning beards, but let's be serious, masculinity is fragile enough as it is. If it were less so, we wouldn't have politicians panicking over how to placate the millions of people who view the clothing choices of minority and migrant women as an active identity threat.

Many decent, tolerant people, including feminists, are torn on the issue of the burqa: of course we don't want the state to start policing what women can and can't wear, but isn't the burqa oppressive? Maybe so, but I was not aware of feminism as a movement that demands that all oppressive clothing be subject to police confiscation, unless the Met’s evidence lockers are full of stilettos, girdles and push-up bras. In case you're wondering, yes, I do feel uncomfortable on the rare occasions when I have seen people wearing the full face veil in public. I've spent enough time living with goths and hippies that I've a high tolerance for ersatz fashion choices — but do wonder what their home lives are like and whether they are happy and safe, and that makes me feel anxious. Banning the burqa might make me feel less anxious. It would not, however, improve the lives of the women who actually wear it. That is what matters. My personal feelings as a white woman about how Muslim women choose to dress are, in fact, staggeringly unimportant.

If you think the Burqa is oppressive and offensive, you are perfectly entitled never to wear one. You are not, however, entitled to make that decision for anyone else. Exactly the same principle applies in the interminable battle over women's basic reproductive choices: many people believe that abortion is wrong, sinful and damaging to women. That's okay. I suggest they never have an abortion. What's not okay is taking away that autonomy from others as a cheap ploy for good press coverage in the runup to an election.

This debate has been dragging on for decades, but there's a new urgency to it now, a new danger: we are now in a political climate where the elected leaders of major nations are talking about registries for Muslims and other minorities. Instituting a symbolic ban on religious dress, however extreme, sets a precedent. What comes next? Are we going to ban every form of Islamic headdress? What about the yarmulke, the tichel, the Sikh turban, the rainbow flag? If this is about community cohesion, what will it take to make white conservatives feel “comfortable”? Where does it stop? Whose freedoms are politicians prepared to sacrifice as a sop to a populace made bitter and unpredictable by 30 years of neoliberal incompetence? Where do we draw the line?

We draw it right here, between the state and the autonomy of women, particularly minority and migrant women who are already facing harassment in unprecedented numbers. Whatever you feel about the burqa, it is not the role of government to police what women wear, and doing it has nothing to do with protection. It is chauvinist, it is repressive, it is a deeply disturbing precedent, and it has no place in our public conversation.

 
 
 
 

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.