Boycotting Murdoch Could Be Harder Than You Think

When troubled media mogul Rupert Murdoch shuttered his News of the World tabloid in the wake of the U.K. phone-hacking scandal, he might have hoped it would help end the crisis quickly.

Want to boycott Murdoch? You'll have to give up all these  Murdoch holdings.

hide captionWant to boycott Murdoch? You'll have to give up all these Murdoch holdings.

Allison Lenz/NPR

But the move only stirred anger in the online world. Facebook users organized a handful of groups aimed at exacting revenge by boycotting Murdoch and his British newspaper publishing company, News International, a subsidiary of Murdoch's behemoth News Corp. One page, called "Boycott News International," issued a clarion call:

"Don't buy the News of the World, The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times, cancel Sky = A clear message to Murdoch."

On Twitter, a BoycottMurdoch account launched before the hacking scandal is drawing more followers. (The effort is still small — it has fewer than 800 followers and 125 tweets so far.) And on Wednesday, after Murdoch withdrew his bid for BSkyB, hashtags for #Murdochout and #boycottsun revealed a stream of jubilant comments.

But Murdoch's vast holdings, especially in the United States, make it challenging to carry out a boycott in a way that truly hurts his bottom line.

Some protesters realize it may be tough to exact real financial pain. Chris Coltrane, a comedian and self-described "geek socialist," has staked out the domain www.boycottmurdoch.com, where he plans to launch a full-fledged site soon.

Demonstrators, one wearing a mask depicting Rupert Murdoch (center), holds puppets depicting British Prime Minister David Cameron (right) and British Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt (left) as they protest outside the Department of Culture Media and Sport in central London on Thursday to show their opposition to the proposed sale of BSkyB to Murdoch's News International.

hide captionDemonstrators, one wearing a mask depicting Rupert Murdoch (center), holds puppets depicting British Prime Minister David Cameron (right) and British Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt (left) as they protest outside the Department of Culture Media and Sport in central London on Thursday to show their opposition to the proposed sale of BSkyB to Murdoch's News International.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

Coltrane remains pragmatic about its goals. As he put it in an email to NPR: "In practice, Murdoch's empire is so vast that we know this [a Murdoch boycott] isn't always practical. In fact, we dare say that it's almost impossible, without relentless dedication. ... Because of that, we are asking people to boycott Rupert Murdoch as much as possible. Do as much as you can to not give Murdoch money."

Coltrane says he's been planning the campaign for a while to protest what he calls Murdoch's "unaccountable power," but the recent hacking scandal pushed him over the edge. He wants people to vote against Murdoch with their wallets now, even if a total boycott may never happen:

"If we can convince people to boycott Murdoch completely, we'll be delighted. But even if we can only get people from 40 percent to 80 percent, that will still be a definite victory."

A representative from News Corp. declined to comment on the brewing boycotts.

But all this raises a question: How much would it really take to boycott Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp. empire? It might be a lot harder than you think.

Here are a few things you couldn't do if you were engaging in a complete boycott of all things News Corp.:

  • You couldn't go see Brad Pitt and Terence Malick's new, critically acclaimed art house film The Tree of Life. It's distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures, a subsidiary of Fox Filmed Entertainment and NewsCorp. (That means you couldn't watch Natalie Portman in Black Swan either.)
  • You couldn't watch any of your favorite sitcoms on the online video site Hulu.com, which is a NewsCorp joint venture with NBC Universal and Disney.
  • You couldn't watch Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic Channel. (Fox owns a majority share of the network.)
  • You couldn't read the Wall Street Journal or the New York Post.
  • You couldn't attend a Los Angeles Lakers or New York Rangers game, since Murdoch has partial ownership in both of those major league sports teams. (He also owns parts of the Staples Center and Madison Square Garden; so no Lady Gaga concerts in the Big Apple either.)
  • You couldn't watch American Idol on Fox or buy any albums or singles by the winners and contestants of the show. That means you, Crystal Bowersox fans.
  • You couldn't buy any book published by HarperCollins since NewsCorp owns that company as well. So forget picking up an extra copy of a J.R.R. Tolkien book.
  • If you're Australian, you couldn't attend a National Rugby League game, or read GQ Australia.

Still, there's one bright spot for would-be Murdoch boycotters who also happen to be Super Bowl fans. Fox, which frequently broadcasts the big game, and did so this January, isn't scheduled to broadcast a Super Bowl again until 2014. So, you can get your pigskin fix and stick it to News Corp. at the same time, at least for a few more years.

Correction July 13, 2011

An earlier version of this story inaccurately attributed ownership of the Dow Jones industrial average to Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. He owns Dow Jones & Co., not the Dow Jones industrial average. The Dow Jones industrial average is owned by CME Group.

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