A Young Rupert Murdoch in Britain, Via the BBC Archives

Adam Curtis pulls fascinating archival footage that shows the tycoon on his way up

The BBC’s Adam Curtis has a fascinating blog called The Medium and the Message where he digs into the network’s unparalleled archives and posts old clips that piece together a bit of history—often on a subject in the news.

Back in January, Curtis put together a brilliant piece called “Rupert Murdoch - A Portrait of Satan” with clips going back four decades, including Murdoch’s first appearance on the BBC, when he was trying to purchase the News of the World, which gave him his first foothold in British media, one he would turn into a dominant position with two decades.

Boy, they don’t make TV like this anymore. I might actually watch it if they did. There’s some great B-roll here of Murdoch in the 1960s making tea, smoking a pipe, and rounding up cattle on horseback, as he gave the BBC access to him in Australia at home and at work. Here’s the understated reporter on what would happen if Murdoch bought the NotW (the BBC player doesn’t embed, but this video is the first one in the post):

If he succeeds in gathering the News of the World reins into his hands, it’s likely they’ll be in for some pretty aggressive management.

The BBC gets Murdoch to admit that he “interferes much with (his) editor’s policies,” and gets some gems from Murdoch on the power of the press and its proprietors:

Of course one enjoys the feeling of power… We have more responsibility than power I think. the newspaper can create great controversies, stir up a (unintelligible) in the community, discussion, throw light on injustices—just as it can do the opposite. It can hide things, and be a great power for evil.

Murdoch even criticizes media consolidation.

I think the important thing is that there be plenty of newspapers with plenty of different people controlling them, so there’s a variety of viewpoints, so that there’s a choice for the public. This is the freedom of the press that is needed.

Of course back then he was the one trying to bust in to the British media.

Another 13-minute segment (fourth one down in Curtis’s post), shows Murdoch in charge of the News of the World, and gives a fascinating glimpse of Murdoch at work in an editors’ news meeting. The reporter interviews Murdoch about a tawdry scandal he hyped up in the NotW and it becomes clear that the culture that the current scandal arose from was birthed—or at least taken to another level—by Murdoch himself. There’s also a good interview with his first wife, Anna.

But the best of all is after Murdoch bought the Times of London. The BBC put together a forty-five minute Panorama program called “Who’s Afraid of Rupert Murdoch?”, which consists of Murdoch coming in the studio, being forced to watch an aggressive 30-minute BBC documentary about him, and then having to answer questions from David Dimbleby afterwards. Murdoch is not happy.

It’s fascinating television, made moreso thirty and forty years later by the hacking scandal at News of the World.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,