Memo from Murdoch

Thanks to Rupert Murdoch, we've all been sent a memo on a range of ethical issues.

First, that a promise (in this case a book contract) ought to mean something. When the world's premier media mogul instructed his HarperCollins publishing arm to cancel a contract with former Hong Kong Gov. Chris Patten, he rightly got slapped with a lawsuit. The suit has been settled, Mr. Murdoch has apologized, but the lesson remains.

Second, we learn that rigidly bottom-line thinking, no matter how multinational, can obscure a bigger, morally significant picture. With regard to Mr. Patten's coming book, that picture offers a penetrating view of the Chinese government's attempts to nip Hong Kong's democratic blossoming as it negotiated a takeover from Britain. Mr. Murdoch, clearly, saw only this portrayal's likely reception in Beijing, where he has deals pending.

Third, we see that the kind of media bigness embodied by Murdoch can, indeed, pinch free expression. True, Patten readily found a new publisher (Random House), but the trends toward concentrated media ownership continue. Independent voices, in publishing, journalism, or on the air, are indispensable.

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