It used to be said that the sun never set on the British Empire. The phrase referred to the fact the British had territories on every continent and in every time zone - it was a confirmation of power.
With a presence in most countries and growing interest in others, we can say the same of News Corp, the media corporation run by Rupert Murdoch.
As one of the world’s largest public companies, News Corp has enormous wealth and resources, but its true power - like that of any empire - is getting others to want what it wants.
In Australia, the major-selling newspaper in every capital city except Perth is published by News LTD (the Australian branch of News Corp). In other countries, rates are comparable.
Even if – as research shows – newspapers do not change what people think, they do tell us what to think about. By presenting select topics, News is able to restrict debate as well as vilify those who break with their narrative.
The Australian journalist Bruce Guthrie found this out when he sued News LTD for breach of contract after his sacking as the Editor-In-Chief of the Melbourne paper The Sun Herald.
Guthrie recounts his toxic battle with News as well as four-decades in print journalism in his 2010 book Man Bites Murdoch – the title refers to the journalism rule: if a dog bites a man it’s not news because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.
Decades in the writing business leave Guthrie well-equipped to tell a captivating story. Concise writing, an unconventional narrative structure and cliff-hanger chapter endings engage the reader while shedding light on the back-room dealings of the Murdoch Empire.
More importantly, though, is Guthrie’s recognition that stories are best told through the people at the centre of them. In keeping with this, we get to the trial after running through Guthrie’s childhood in Broadmeadows, a working class Melbourne suburb, and his career from its beginning as a copy boy in 1972 to work in the U.S, and to senior executive roles in Australia. Watching the media landscape change over two decades raises numerous questions.
But despite the universally popular underdog theme, Man Bites Murdoch is unlikely to appeal to those without a specific interest in Australian politics and the media industry in general.
Moreover, it feels, at times, that Guthrie has a score to settle. He criticises a number of influential people, but never meaningfully reflects on his own failures.
Damaged by the struggle of WWII, the British Empire eventually fell apart. Guthrie’s $665,000 victory in the Victorian Supreme Court will have no such effect on News Corp. It does, however, leave us with an exciting and thought-provoking book.