If you haven’t followed the sordid details, one of Murdoch’s London-based papers regularly hacked into the cell phones of crime victims, athletes, movie stars, and politicians to get those all important scoops. This allegedly occurred to thousands of people over years, dating back to the early 2000s. Then to make matters much worse, when leaks about this hacking surfaced and the police began investigations, the editors and/or reporters bribed the police into finding nothing. Murdoch’s company also spent millions in out of court settlements with victims, buying their silence.
The whole disgusting mess blew up a few weeks ago when a rival London paper reported that the cell phone of a murdered 13-year-old girl had been hacked into by Murdoch’s reporters. What’s worse, the offending (and offensive) reporters deleted some of the girl’s voice message after listening to them, to make room for more messages. This gave her family the false hope that she may still be alive, deleting those voice mails.
No one much cares if some millionaire celebrity’s cell phone is hacked by the press. But a 13-year-old murdered girl pushed the UK public into outrage mode. The outrage has only increased in recent weeks as more and more details come to light about how “normal” it was for Murdoch’s minions to invade privacy, bribe police, break laws, and cover it all up. Some U.S. observers have likened Murdoch to Richard Nixon and the hacking scandal to Watergate.
The fallout has been fast and furious. Murdoch’s top UK editor and most trusted media lieutenant has been arrested, along with other reporters. The publisher of the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal has resigned, since years of hacking occurred while he managed Murdoch’s British papers. The head of Scotland Yard has resigned, along with one of his top deputies, because of their cozy relationship (frequent dinners, etc.) with the very media types they were supposed to be investigating.
Parliament is in a uproar, stoked completely by the public’s outrage. Previously, British politicians groveled at Murdoch’s feet out of fear that his press coverage would ruin their careers if they dared cross him. Now committees have been formed, various and sundry investigations have begun.
Of course Murdoch and his leadership team in the UK (it needs mentioning that Murdoch’s U.S. holdings, such as the WSJ and FoxNews, have not in any way been implicated in the hacking and bribery practices) all plead innocence and ignorance of any wrongdoing.
This brings me to one of safety and health pros’ favorite subjects — culture. As with other disasters, such as the BP Gulf fiasco and NASA’s space shuttle explosions, fingers are being pointed at the organization’s culture. Numerous reporters and editors for Murdoch’s British papers, speaking anonymously so as not to be fired, concede that the hacking into cell phones and paying off police “were just the way things were done around here. Everyone knew it.”
Talk about cultural values. They don’t emanate from the ground up. The Murdoch mess was not one or two rogue reporters doing their own thing; just like a couple of employees on the Deepwater Horizon platform did not decide on their own to ignore drilling test results, or rogue NASA engineers took matters into their own hands and decide it was OK to ignore serious risks.
No, values, I don’t have to tell you, come from the top. That’s where the power always lies. And far too often in business, whether it be publishing or oil drilling or space exploration, values are fashioned out of competition and ego and greed, not some warm and fuzzy feeling for employee well-being or in the case of Murdoch’s minions, any feelings for the family of the 13-year-old murdered girl.
Cultures, be they business corporations, sports teams, governments or countries, are in the main based on the values of coming in first, making more money, winning, standing out. To be sure you’ll find cultures that value human dignity, a sincere attempt to raise people up, but they seem to me to be much in the minority.