By one of the strange twists of fate the “News International Wapping – 25 Years on” exhibition closes this week just as Rupert Murdoch launches his Sun on Sunday, to fill the gap left by his abandoning of the News of the World title.
I stumbled across this exhibition when I visited the Marx Memorial Library in London’s Clerkenwell last May to see the small patio dedicated to the printers who had lost their lives in the Spanish Civil War. It had just opened and was billed as recording the strike that made the modern media. It details the history of Murdoch in the UK and the violent confrontations of the Wapping dispute which saw the end of Fleet Street.
When I first viewed it, I did so largely out of social and political historical interest. Little did I know that within weeks Wapping would again be propelled to the front of the news pages, with the escalation of the phone hacking scandal and the resulting closure of the News of the World.
The exhibition tells us of the Wapping conspiracy involving Rupert Murdoch, his henchmen at the EETPU, and Farrar & Co, the law firm who advised News International on how to get rid of its workers. They wrote: “the cheapest way would be to dismiss employees while participating in a strike.”
The importance played by Murdoch’s UK press holdings in building his empire is detailed by Granville Williams of the Campaign for Press & Broadcasting Freedom. He states: “Pre-Wapping his Fleet Street papers generated 45 per cent of Murdoch’s profits. Post-Wapping the boost in profits from the papers funded his global expansion. He acquired the Twentieth Century Fox film studio, created the Fox TV network in the States, and launched Sky in the UK.”
At the exhibition last May, I met Jo Chesterman. Her husband, Fred, had been a driver for one of Murdoch’s newspapers and she was propelled into forming a women’s support group. Jo’s photographs and first hand reports from the frontline made riveting viewing and listening. One of the pundits on TV recently linked the closeness between the Murdoch Empire and the Met Police, who were wined and dined during the phone hacking investigation then offered lucrative jobs, to the Wapping dispute. One of Jo’s most sickening photographs was of a demonstrating print worker who had each arm grabbed by a police officer, walked fast in to a lamppost then let go. He collapsed to the ground his face smashed and covered in blood. His stunned anguish stared out at me.
The curator of the exhibition is Ann Field and since it opened last May, she and her dedicated team have travelled all over Britain including to the TUC Congress House and to various conferences before closing at the Bishopsgate Institute Library. Proceeds from the exhibition will be used to create a News International Dispute Archive website which you should look out for. The exhibition may yet make further appearances. It is well worth seeing: remember the Murdoch debacle started there.Tags: Arts, Domestic (UK)
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This post was written by David Eade