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Big Brother lurks in the halls of the state, so too the private firm

“Big Brother is watching You” was the pervasive punch-line in British writer George Orwell's novel “1984.” Recent developments in Britain give fresh currency to the classic.

The blue-ribbon Leveson Inquiry on Nov. 30 issued a comprehensive report damning the behavior and standards of the nation's mass media in general. In the document, special fire is directed at Rupert Murdoch's tabloid “The News of the World,” now closed.

Public revelations that the Murdoch family's firm for years conducted massive hacking into British cellphone information has created enormous continuing controversy, and led to the inquiry. Targets included cellphones of a murdered young girl and relatives of soldiers killed in action.

There are also allegations of police payoffs by representatives of the firm. In an unusual move, Britain's political parties united in Parliament to condemn the company.

Meanwhile, on Dec. 3 Murdoch announced his News Corp. will be split into two entities. He will be chairman of both but chief executive officer only of one, Fox Entertainment Group.

Patriarch Murdoch's influence in Britain has been enormous for decades. Politicians across the spectrum fear his power to embarrass or endorse, and have assiduously courted his favor.

Orwell, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, was a committed socialist. Unlike many on the left today, however, he had personal involvement with working people, because he was one. He stressed egalitarianism, while warning about dangers of concentrated power in government as well as corporations.

The Murdoch snooping scandal is particularly grotesque, and may yet bring down that media empire. However, guarding individual freedom including privacy from intrusive power structures represents a more complex continuing challenge.

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