Press Box

Rupert Murdoch’s Favorite Lie

As long as he insists on telling it, I’ll keep calling it out.

Rupert Murdoch can’t stop telling his favorite lie.

In this week’s Newsweek, he claims that he booted the BBC World Service Television from his Star satellite TV system in Asia in 1994 for financial reasons, not for its China coverage.

The article also quotes from a note Murdoch sent to New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. taking issue with a Times editorial that touched on the matter. “I don’t know how many times I have to state that I didn’t take off the BBC,” Murdoch wrote.

It’s a lie, and the genocidal tyrant knows it. Here’s how a cross section of the press reported the BBC’s eviction from Star, which he bought in late 1993:

Especially sensitive is the matter of the BBC World Service news channel carried by Star TV, which has broadcast reports embarrassing to the Chinese government.A … contract prohibits Star from dropping the BBC, but Murdoch is trying to negotiate a deal that would substitute documentary and educational programming for the British news service.

Los Angeles Times (Feb. 13, 1994)

Rupert Murdoch says the British Broadcasting Corp. could lose its spot on his Star TV satellite network unless it addresses bias charges leveled by India and China.Murdoch told reporters in New Delhi that he is inclined to replace the BBC with his own Sky TV news channel to improve the overseas image of both countries as well as to seek better ties with them.”That may be a solution that we may have to come to,” Murdoch said. “We have a legally binding contract with the BBC. We would hope that we can resolve most of these complications with them before taking such a drastic step as that.”

Media Daily (Feb. 15, 1994)

Mr Murdoch has made several trips to China since and the Chinese leadership has wasted no time publicising his efforts to placate it. A month ago Guo Baoxing, of China’s Ministry of [R]adio, Film and TV, said Beijing had told Star to drop the BBC world service which is carried on one of their five channels. The BBC has offended China by producing and airing a documentary on Mao Zedong, a few minutes of which mention that he enjoyed sexual encounters with young women. The Chinese also got a bit upset when the BBC aired graphic pictures of the Tiananmen Square massacre near its anniversary.This week it was confirmed that Star is doing just what the Chinese asked.

—the Sun-Herald of Sydney, Australia (March 20, 1994)

Last year the outspoken mogul declared that satellite television was “an unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere.” A month or so later the Chinese government clamped down on the installation of satellite dishes.Dumping the BBC … appears to have been Mr. Murdoch’s penance. Seldom has he let ideology stand in the way of profits; nor is he especially fond of the BBC. Recently he told The Economist that the BBC caused him “lots of headaches” with a number of Asian governments—especially the one in Beijing—because of its critical news coverage.

—the Economist (March 26, 1994)

It became increasingly clear that News Corp. regarded the BBC news service as a political liability in Star’s quest to develop better relationships with a number of Asian governments, notably the Communist regime in China.

Variety (March 28, 1994)

Once the BBC had been dumped, a Murdoch minion categorically denied that politics had anything to do with it, as this next clip illustrates.

Satellite broadcaster STAR-TV, owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, denied reports that it bowed to political pressure in deciding to beam Mandarin-language movies instead of a BBC news channel into China. Gary Davey, STAR-TV chief executive, told reporters commercial considerations and a lack of capacity on the northern beam of the Asiasat-1 satellite led it to scrap BBC World Service Television.

USA Today, international edition (March 23, 1994)

Murdoch abandoned this lie just a few months later, coming clean in a British Esquire (July 1994) interview. Here’s how the June 14, 1994, Wall Street Journal reported it:

Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp., despite earlier denials by his media companies, has acknowledged months after the fact that he yanked British Broadcasting Corp. news from his satellite television service in northern Asia in hopes of soothing bad relations with China. … Mr. Murdoch said he made the decision to pull BBC, even though “I was well aware that the freedom fighters of the world would abuse me for it.” Mr. Murdoch told author William Shawcross that cutting out the BBC was critical to Star’s acceptance in China. “They hate the BBC,” Mr. Murdoch said. “Critics say it’s a cowardly way, but we said that in order to get in there and get accepted, we’ll cut the BBC out.”

Murdoch stuck with the embarrassing truth for a decent interval. “The BBC was driving [the Chinese leaders] nuts,” Murdoch told Ken Auletta in a Nov. 13, 1995, New Yorker piece. “It’s not worth it.” He added, “We’re not proud of that decision. It was the only way.”

As best as I can tell, Murdoch didn’t return to the corporate lie until 2007, when he told the Financial Times that the BBC’s defenestration was just business. He said:

Star was losing $100m per year; we had to pay $10m per year to the BBC. I said “Let them pay it themselves”, and they did. We also cancelled two other third-party channels—MTV and Prime Sports. At that stage we never ever had any request from anybody in China. Indeed, there was no discourse at all.

Financial Times (May 24, 2007)

Newsweek isn’t the only place Murdoch is trafficking his fib this month. In a Georgetown University speech, he told students and faculty that unplugging the BBC was all about commerce, saying:

The BBC has a lot more money than I; they can get their own transponder and their own satellite. And that was taken as me kowtowing to the Chinese government. And I’ve had that hung around my neck forever.

Murdoch lies because he has no shame. Last summer, Time’s Eric Pooley asked the rotten old bastard about a few of his disgraces. What did he have to say today about having ordered three New York Post journalists to investigate a competitor back in 1984—not to write a story but to assist a Murdoch lawyer in deposing the competitor? “I don’t recall it. … But if we did it, we were wrong.” Or of the spiking of a memoir of the last British governor of Hong Kong, who was detested by the Chinese government Murdoch has so labored to placate? “I was probably in the wrong there too.”

“It’s been a long career, and I’ve made some mistakes along the way. We’re not all virgins,” Murdoch told Pooley.

Speak for yourself, Rupert.


Today marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of the “Hitler Diaries” by Murdoch’s London Times. (FYI: Newsweek also published from the diaries. Both it and Slate are owned by the Washington Post Co.) When Murdoch publishes his own diaries, what should he call them? The Filth and the Fury? Send your nominations to (E-mail may be quoted by name in “The Fray,” Slate’s readers’ forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

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