The former editor of The Herald, Harry Reid, who now a freelance writer and author, has put a spirited case for the defence of global communications tycoon Rupert Murdoch.
Reid eloquently put his case for the Australian-born Murdoch as his UK business appears to be crumbling before his eyes after he was forced to shut down the News of the World over the alleged phone hacking scandal.
In his weekly column in The Herald yesterday, Reid, said that this was probably Murdoch’s ‘darkest hour’ and described his handling of the scandal as being ‘inept’.
He added that “A frank, penitent and humble admission of guilt, on the lines of the buck ends with me, would not come amiss.
“He may be floundering right now, and he may be almost impossible to like (from a distance, anyway) but many of us owe him a great deal.”
Reid declared that although he has never met Murdoch nor worked for him: “I hope I’m big enough to recognise what he did for printed journalism in Britain.”
Reid recalls that the move of Murdoch’s four newspapers – The Times, Sunday Times, The Sun and the News of the World - to Wapping in 1986 was in the measured words of Ken Clarke, then Employment Minister …“a sad story, but the lasting effects were beneficial.
He continued: “Mr Murdoch needed toughness and resilience to see his strategy through. He was well supported by the Glaswegian journalist Charles Wilson, then editor of The Times (who had earlier edited The Herald).”
Reid explained that Murdoch’s victory at Wapping meant that print journalists were at last able to input their copy directly, instead of going through various processes controlled by production unions.
“The other reason I’m grateful to Rupert Murdoch is because of his introduction of BSkyB.
“Apart from the superb coverage of football (and the injection of a lot of money into football which should have been better used) BSkyB gave me access to a wonderful plurality and diversity of viewing, including some first-class news channels.”
Reid contends that it is ironic that Murdoch’s newspapers have been criticised for their pro-Israel line when thanks to him, many viewers in Britain, including himself, had benefited from the excellent coverage of the Middle East by the authoritative Al Jazeera channel.
“It’s valid to regard Mr Murdoch as a great newspaper proprietor. Such figures are generally larger than life mavericks who defy conventional standards.
“Some, like Robert Maxwell, over-indulge themselves and become sick jokes; others, like Lord Northcliffe and Lord Beaverbrook, triumph over their many enemies.
“Not so long ago this newspaper had a controversial proprietor – none other than Tiny Rowland, once described by Prime Minister Ted Heath as the ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’.
“Mr Rowland was a remote, hands-off figure; he did not come to The Herald during its bicentenary year in 1983 - although both Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the Queen visited the paper’s then premises in Albion Street.
“When a management buy-out was concluded in 1992, The Herald’s then editor, Arnold Kemp, asked me to write a leader saying goodbye to Mr Rowland.
“I did so in terms that some considered sycophantic, though I think the charge might have carried more weight had he still been proprietor.
“All we were doing was saying goodbye graciously.
“That is what I think Mr Murdoch has to do now: say goodbye graciously. He should certainly regard his bid for outright ownership of BSkyB as dead in the water. It might be so, now that it has been referred to the Competition Commission.
“And he should cleanse his senior management of all who may be tainted, however indirectly, by the current scandal, appoint some new blood, and then return home to the US,” concluded Reid.