News Limited, the Australian arm of Rupert Murdoch's media empire News Corporation, is to change its name in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.
A 41-page advertising pitch leaked to Australian news website Crikey.com discloses that the company plans to rebrand itself as News Australia, in an apparent bid to distance itself from the damaging fallout following the closure of the News of the World.
The document acknowledges that in Mr Murdoch's native country, News Limited, which controls a large part of the newspaper market and owns the only national newspaper, is viewed as an "arrogant newspaper company" that is "difficult to deal with".
- The Daily Telegraph (UK), 21 Sep 2011.
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet*;
- Juliet, Romeo and Juliet, Scene II, Act II. William Shakespeare 1600
Is changing the name of the company going to make a lick of difference to how it is perceived? Surely the public's perception of a company or indeed any entity, person or thing isn't determined by what they're called but by how they act.
If News Limited is viewed as an "arrogant newspaper company" that is "difficult to deal with", then the reason why it's viewed as such is because it has acted as an arrogant newspaper company that is "difficult to deal with, surely?
I think quite rightly that the public views News Limited more as the "Murdoch" media empire; this is known as a metonym, where a thing stands for the whole, in much the same way as "Canberra" would be understood by the public to encompass the whole political process. The subject of metonymy in this case also helps to explain why the public views News Limited more as the "Murdoch" media empire.
News Limited's newspaper have long thrown partisan support behind political parties where it suited them. Usually in Australia this means the Liberal Party, in the UK the Conservatives, and the US the Republican Party but in all three cases the company shifts its stance as it sees fit.
Particularly in Australia where News Limited dominates 70% of the newspaper market, the company is seen to have a very big sway over public opinion. By its nature a newspaper helps to psychologically block out the rest of the world for a short time as people are engaged with it; this means that the messages of the newspaper are quite powerful.
Demographically the people who tend to buy newspapers are usually richer than the general populace and because of this they actually have a greater degree of say within the economy by exercising their buying power. It's therefore no accident that in a very closed market like newspaper ownership in Australia both News Ltd. and Fairfax Media Ltd. are both broadly centre-rightist publications.
In all honesty I think that over the next ten years its all academic anyway. Newspapers generally around the world are losing circulation and the convergence of media means that people are now able to get news from a wider viewpoint should they choose to do so.
But I think that the biggest change the News Ltd will happen when Rupert Murdoch himself dies. He was born in 1931 and is now 80 years old. Taken today Rupert has a life expectancy of 8.09 years which means that he is likely to die in 2019. When that happens, I think that the nature of News Ltd itself will change because of a change in leadership.
There is also the possibility that News Ltd will spin the newspaper group out of the company. Personally I think that the only reason why News Ltd retains a newspaper business at all is because Rupert himself likes them as things to play with.
For whatever reason once/if/when News Ltd does divest its newspaper group, a change within the editorial stance of the corresponding newspapers is quite likely, just like before when the London Times newspaper shifted from being a stuffy newspaper of record, or when The Wall Street Journal changed to being more "popularist".
Basically a change in News Limited newspapers requires either a real change in News Limited itself or a change in ownership of the newspapers. In short it means the end of Rupert at the top.
Merely changing the name is unlikely to do anything at all.
*It has been suggested that The Rose was a rival theatre to Shakespeare's Globe and that it had less than perfect sanitation. Maybe The Rose by any other name would still stink.