Monday, July 25, 2011

Irish-Vatican and UK-News Corp. events explore similar themes: representative governments do battle with the behind-the-scene power brokers

It is not hard to see the similarities between two ongoing scandals: the Catholic Church child abuse scandal in Ireland, and the U.K. phone hacking scandal.

In both case, powerful, behind-the-scene players are seen as power brokers, with the upfront politicians often placating the powerful players who promote them.

In the U.K., that player, of course, is Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. It's U.K. division, News International owns important newspapers in The Times, The Sun, and until recently, the News of the World. It is also a partial owner of BSkyB, the biggest British pay TV provider.

Prime Ministers from both the Conservative and Labour parties have courted the support of News International, and Rupert Murdoch himself has been seen at 10 Downing Street, and David Cameron, then out of power, got into a bit of trouble for accepting a flight to visit Murdoch in Greece back in 2008.

As the phone scandal erupted Cameron found himself in the middle of things: not only did he employ a former News of the World editor to be his communications director, but his party was seen as supporting News International's efforts to take over the rest of BSkyB. This has presented an opening for Ed Miliband, leader of Labour who has surprised many with his strong denunciations of both the Tories (no surprise) and News Corp.

What happened in Ireland last week has almost gone unnoticed here in the U.S. Enda Kenny, Ireland's Taoiseach (Prime Minister), and leader of the Fine Gael party, gave a speech which directly accused the Vatican of frustrating attempts to investigate cases of child abuse. In a country that is strongly Catholic, the speech was a sharp rebuke of the Church, and a clear sign that Kenny would not act in fear of the Vatican.
The Irish leader's speech was the subject this weekend of Maureen Dowd's New York Times column.

She described Kenny's speech this way: Pulling back the curtain to expose the profane amid the sacred would have been remarkable coming from any leader in one of the many countries scarred by pedophile priests, but from the devoutly Catholic prime minister of a nation whose constitution once enshrined the special position of the church, it was breathtaking.

She, too, saw parallels with the phone hacking scandal, referring to Rupert Murdoch as "the pope of Fleet Street".

This issue here, of course, is the influence media and church leaders have in their ability to present messages to their readers, viewers or followers. When does the words of a politician outweigh the constant drum beat of reporters, news anchors or clergy? Rarely.

So it is news, indeed, when politicians decide to rebel. But one should be cautious here: for every action there will be a reaction and we are seeing it already in the pages of the WSJ, The Australian and Fox News. With the attention of most of the press on the debt ceiling issue, is it likely News Corp. will have to worry about the phone hacking scandal coming to America thanks to the speeches of politicians? I have my doubts.