I spoke at two very different events yesterday, and got some interesting insights into two subjects I think about a fair bit, Rupert Murdoch’s influence, and (unrelated), mental health.
The first event was a conference in London of the Australian pension funds industry, and the reason I was there was to take part in a session on the fall-out from the recent scandals threatening to engulf the Murdoch empire.
I gave an analysis, which will be familiar to Leveson Inquiry regulars, about the cultural changes that have led us to where we are, and spoke more generally about reputation management and how history is littered with examples of reputations built over decades, and lost in days.
So nothing surprising from me, I guess, but what did come as a surprise was the strength of feeling from the audience when they joined in the discussion. To what seemed like fairly widespread agreement, it was suggested by one that the Murdoch brand was now so toxic that News Corp was becoming ‘uninvestable.’ There were pent-up feelings in there too, some big hitters saying they had been warning Murdoch and his people for years that they had to change their ways, become more like an ‘ordinary’ company not a concern dominated by one family and one man, described by someone as ‘totally narcissistic.’
So it went on, to the point that I found myself pointing out that they were having this essentially ethical debate not about the arms trade, the tobacco industry, or investment in countries with shocking human rights records, but a media owner who had got into trouble because of behaviour at a very small part of his global business concern.
But the mood was set, and it was very different to how it might have been even a few years ago. As to whether they will disinvest, then that will depend on their own very hard-headed assessments. But the fact they were talking about it so openly, and in some cases so strongly, was an interesting start to the day. And the overwhelming sense was that even now, there remained no clear strategy at News Corp setting out how they intended to get out of the mess they’re in. One speaker said out loud that the change required will only come when Murdoch is gone. It was a pretty harsh message.
Later to the British Medical Journal Awards in Park Lane, and a brief speech in support of their chosen charity, MIND. A room full of GPs, and I was able to tell them courtesy of MIND chief executive Paul Farmer that in the past 12 months, demand for MIND services had risen by 20 per cent. It is not too hard to work out some of the reasons. The links between unemployment and depression are well-known. But also the cuts in frontline services are beginning to bite.
GPs know more than anyone that many of the people they see day in day out, whatever the stated reason for being in the surgery, are there for reasons to do with mental health. But across the NHS, and across society, we still do not have parity between physical and mental health, both in terms of services and attitudes.
It’s great that the BMJ have chosen MIND as their charity. It is also a sign of how much more we need to do before that parity arrives.