You don't have Murdoch to kick around any more...

Murdoch gets huffy.

Rupert Murdoch insists that the decision to split publishing away from the rest of the News Corp empire has nothing to do with the hacking scandal.
But nonetheless, it is difficult not to be reminded of Richard Nixon’s last press conference when looking at the announcement. The disgraced US president memorably told the press: “you don’t have Nixon to kick around any more”.
And similarly, after a year in which Murdoch has faced a savage backlash from the politicians who spent so long courting him, he appears to be withdrawing from interest in the UK altogether.
Asked by US-based broadcaster Fox News whether he was pulling back from the UK he said: “No, but I would be a lot more reluctant to invest in new things in Britain today than I would be here.”
I’ve always defended Murdoch because of the huge amount he has invested in British journalism. There was something comforting about the fact that hundreds of millions made on films like Avatar were helping prop up the brilliant but massively loss-making journalism of The Times. Not any more.
Announcing the break-up of News Corp last week, he revealed he would not tolerate print losses anywhere: “Each newspaper will be expected to pay its way”.
The published accounts suggest Times Newspapers lost £12m in the year to July 2011, £45m in the year before that and £88m in the year previous to that. But the true figure could be even higher because the figures that reach Companies House provide only a partial account.
It is tempting to conclude that Murdoch subsidised his UK press operations to an extent because of the political clout they gave him, and now that clout has gone forever, he is going to run on them on less sentimental lines.
He will be chairman of both News Corp divisions but only chief executive of the entertainment division, which makes ten times as much money as the publishing side. This means that he must be planning to reduce his hands-on involvement in The Sun, Times, Sunday Times, Wall Street Journal and Australian titles.
Interviewed by Press Gazette seven years ago, Murdoch (then 74) appeared concerned about his legacy. He spoke about his pride at the union-smashing move to Wapping in 1986 which he said was an “absolute turning point for Fleet Street and the whole of the newspaper industry…I’m very proud of it and it will be part of my legacy.”
It now looks like Murdoch’s hands-on launch of the Sunday edition of The Sun in March was his last throw of the dice in the UK newspaper market. It is a remarkable story which began with his acquisition of the 6 million-selling News of the World in 1968 and which may now conclude with the sell-off of the unrivalled newspaper empire he has built up.
Newspapers, and journalism operations full-stop, always seem to do better when they are run by someone with a long-term vision which extends far beyond the immediate bottom line. Hence the success of the likes of Murdoch and Rothermere versus the managed decline at Trinity Mirror and Express Newspapers where titles appear to be seen as short-term cash generators.
If that ethos is now to extend to the NI titles, then Murdoch’s exit from the UK journalistic stage will be a sad day for Fleet Street.

This article first appeared in Press Gazette.

Murdoch, Photograph: Getty Images

Dominic Ponsford is editor of Press Gazette

Getty
Show Hide image

Is it true that a PR firm full of Blairites is orchestrating the Labour coup?

Portland Communications has been accused of conspiring against Jeremy Corbyn. It's not true, but it does reveal a worrying political imbalance in the lobbying industry.

The secret is out. The Canary – an alternative left wing media outlet – claims to have uncovered the story that the lobby missed. The website has discovered “the truth behind the Labour coup, when it really began and who manufactured it”.

Apparently, the political consultancy and PR firm Portland Communications is “orchestrating” the Labour plotting through its extensive network of Blairite lobbyists and its close links to top media folk. Just when we thought that Tom Watson and Angela Eagle might have something to do with it.

Many Canary readers, who tend to be Jeremy Corbyn supporters, have been lapping up and sharing the shock news. “Thank you for exposing this subterfuge,” said Susan Berry. “Most helpful piece of the week,” enthused Sarah Beuhler.

On Twitter, Mira Bar-Hillel went even further: “It is now clear that @jeremycorbyn must remove anybody associated with Portland PR, the Fabians and Lord Mandelson from his vicinity asap.”

The Canary's strange, yet popular, theory goes like this: Portland was set up by Tony Blair’s former deputy communications chief Tim Allan. On its books are a number of Labour types, many of whom dislike Corbyn and also have links to the Fabian Society. The PR firm also has “countless links to the media” and the BBC recently interviewed a Portland consultant. Err, that’s it.

The author of the piece, Steve Topple, concludes: “The Fabians have mobilised their assets in both the parliamentary Labour party, in the media and in the sphere of public relations, namely via Portland Communications – to inflict as much damage as possible on Corbyn.”

To be fair to Topple, he is right to detect that Portland has a few active Blairites on the payroll. But on that basis, the entire British lobbying industry might also be behind Labour’s coup.

Rival lobbying firm Bell Pottinger employs paid-up Blairites such as the former prime minister’s assistant political secretary Razi Rahman and his ex-special adviser Darren Murphy. Bell Pottinger also has former News of The World political editor Jamie Lyons.

Are Rahman and Murphy also telling docile Labour MPs what to do?  Is Lyon busy ensuring that his old mates in the lobby are paying attention to the Labour story, just in case they get sidetracked or don’t fancy writing about the official opposition imploding around them?

And what about Lodestone Communications, whose boss is a close pal of Tom Watson? Or Lexington Communications, which is run by a former aide of John Prescott? Or Insight Consulting Group, which is run by the man who managed Andy Burnham’s recent leadership campaign?

Having tracked down the assorted Blairites at Portland, Topple asserts: “It surely can be no coincidence that so many of the employees of this company are affiliated to both Labour and the Fabians.”

Indeed it is no coincidence – but not in the way that the author suggests. Since the mid-1990s, Labour lobbyists have tended to come from the pragmatic, Blairite ranks of the party. This is largely because Labour spent the 1980s ignoring business, and that only changed significantly when Blair arrived on the scene.

Whisper it quietly, but Portland also employ a few Tories. Why don’t they get a mention? Presumably they are also busy focusing on how to destroy Boris Johnson or to ensure that Stephen Crabb never gets anywhere near Downing Street.

What is certainly true is that Corbynites are incredibly hard to find in public affairs. As one experienced Labour lobbyist at another firm has told me: “I know of nobody in the industry  or indeed the real world – who is a Corbynite. All of my Labour-supporting colleagues would be horrified by the accusation!”

David Singleton is editor of Public Affairs News. He tweets @singersz.