13/07/2011 - 08:50

Analysis: when business loses its morals

13/07/2011 - 08:50


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Business is not just about making money, as a former Chinese Ambassador to Australia said yesterday. There is a moral dimension - as Rupert Murdoch is discovering.

Analysis: when business loses its morals

Business is not just about making money, as a former Chinese Ambassador to Australia said yesterday. There is a moral dimension - as Rupert Murdoch is discovering.

It was ironic in the extreme to read the words of the Ambassador, Zhou Wenzhong, on one page of a newspaper this morning ("commercial transactions ... just to make money") while a photo of Murdoch, chief executive of scandal-riddled News Corporation, looked on from the adjoining page.

The two men come from different worlds but are making the same mistake; one that is embarrassing Australia today, and potentially damaging to Australia in the future.

As the man in charge at News, Murdoch oversaw the original money v morality mistake, by pushing his staff too hard in the name of maintaining newspaper circulation, and thereby attracting advertising revenue.

The result appears to have been extensive criminal activity by people following orders, an infamous defence.

It is unlikely that Murdoch, Australia's most famous media boss, and now an American citizen knew the full extent of the telephone bugging, voicemail tampering, and email hacking carried out in the name of his now dead Sunday newspaper, News of the World, and possibly for more illustrious titles such as The Sunday Times and Times.

But, what happened in the name of News Corporation was business at its ugliest, and most thoughtless.

Police and judicial inquiries will throw more light on how the News Corporation moles did their work, and who they targeted. That is an important part of the truth-discovery process.

More important, however, are the questions of why, who knew, and why didn't somebody recognise the immorality, let alone the illegality, of what was being done.

Ambassador Zhou is guilty of the same mistake, only this time it is more than one former Australian newspaperman facing a dilemma. It is every Australian.

What the Chinese Ambassador is asking Australia to do is abandon its moral compass and do business with China - whatever the cost or, in his words, "just to make money".

"Don't demonise Chinese investments" was the headline above the report on Zhou's speech in which he told a business forum in Perth that Australia and China had complementary economies and had to work together to "make it a win-win situation".

Looked at from a strictly business perspective and it is hard to argue with Zhou's view, just as it was hard to argue with News Corporation's pursuit of readers and advertising.

But, just as the newspaper circulation drive ran off the rails so too could Australia experience the same sort of crisis if it does not question how close it wants to get to a country which is undoubtedly an economic giant, but one governed by the rules of a totalitarian dictatorship.

The primary freedom in China today is the freedom to make money. There is no freedom of expression. Dissent of any sort is not tolerated. There are no free elections. The route to the top is only via membership of the ruling party which calls itself communist, but which has actually morphed into a curious money-focussed gang with membership open only to a small elite.

Right now, doing business with China is an excellent way to make money.

The danger is that over time it will be tempting for Australians to do business the Chinese way, shrouding all transactions under a commercial cloak with no-one questioning whether they are morally correct, or legal.

News Corporation saw its job in those terms. It didn't question how it boosted newspaper circulation because it was in the name of making money - until it was whacked with a moral baseball bat, and now faces dismemberment at the hands of a very angry public.


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