Why News Corp is like Russia

Murdoch can take the losses.

Russia ultimately won the Second World War thanks to its unique ability to sustain massive losses – and the same could be true for Rupert Murdoch and News Corp.

A huge legal settlement with rebel US shareholders yesterday added yet further to  News Corp’s massive  phone-hacking bill .

They accused the News Corp board of allowing Rupert to “siphon value away from News Corp and its shareholders for the benefit of Murdoch, his family and his friends”.

They also claimed the board had been negligent in the way it dealt with the hacking scandal.

The $139m settlement of that suit adds to the claimed $340m of costs incurred as a result of the hacking scandal to February this year.

Murdoch’s scorched earth policy since the hacking scandal has been as ruthless as it has been effective and something that few other media companies in the world could have afforded to engage in.

Since the July 2011 revelation that the News of the World had hacked the voicemail messages of Milly Dowler Murdoch has closed the biggest selling Sunday newspaper in Britain, the News of the World (sacking more than 200 staff) and has engaged in a forensic audit of his surviving redtop title – The Sun – which is unprecedented in UK corporate history.

The News Corp Management and Standards Committee’s internal purge has seen at least 23 Sun journalists arrested.

Whatever it costs, Murdoch is determined to win out in the long run by retreating as far as he has to and dynamiting his own assets along the way.

Back in July 2011, there was giddy moment for the Murdoch-haters when it looked like The Guardian’s revelations around phone-hacking had dealt him a fatal blow.

His willingness and capacity to absorb financial losses since then in order to salvage his newspaper empire shows that he is determined to win the long war.

Photograph: Getty Images

Dominic Ponsford is editor of Press Gazette

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.