Fleet Street unites against Murdoch

Media heads warn Vince Cable that Murdoch's bid for BSkyB could destroy media plurality.

Rupert Murdoch has long seen himself as an "anti-establishment" radical and this morning he will feel vindicated. His bid to take full ownership of BSkyB (he currently owns a 39 per cent stake) has achieved the rare feat of uniting the highly factionalised world of Fleet Street around a single cause: to stop Murdoch.

A remarkable cross-section of media executives have written to Vince Cable urging him to consider blocking News Corp's takeover bid on plurality grounds. Signatories to the letter include Murdoch MacLennan, chief executive of Telegraph Media Group, Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, Ian Livingston, chief executive of BT, Sly Bailey, chief executive of Trinity Mirror, Andrew Miller, chief executive of Guardian Media Group and David Abraham, chief executive of Channel 4.

For the Telegraph, which has a long-standing non-aggression pact with News International, to intervene in this fashion, reveals the degree of concern over Murdoch's takeover plan.

When questioned on the subject at a recent New Statesman fringe event, Cable replied:

I am not willing to express a view on it. This is a legal process. The power that I have as a secretary of state is limited to a judgement on whether the media plurality is affected on this - and I will form a judgement if a bid is made, but as yet no bid has been made.

If Cable's aim is to preserve media plurality then there is only one possible conclusion: the deal must be blocked. As Mark Thompson recently argued in his impressive MacTaggart Lecture, Murdoch's takeover bid, if successful, would lead to a "concentration of cross-media ownership" that would be unacceptable in the United States or Australia.

As the owner of the Sun, the News of the World, the Times and the Sunday Times, Murdoch already controls 37.3 per cent of UK newspaper circulation and, based on revenue, Sky is now the country's largest broadcaster, with an annual income of £5.4bn. With the Times already behind a paywall and the News of World soon to follow, his game plan is coming into view.

Once the deal is complete, we can expect the News Corp head to bundle his newspapers with Sky subscriptions in an attempt to offset falling circulation. As media analyst Claire Enders has predicted, by the middle of this decade, Murdoch could control 50 per cent of the newspaper and television markets, a concentration of ownership that would make even Silvio Berlusconi blush.

That Murdoch has a history of editorial intervention is not strictly relevant: it would be undesirable for any individual or company, however benevolent, to achieve such a concentration of ownership. But it certainly raises the stakes.

David Cameron, who could count on the full-throated support of Murdoch's newspapers during the election and whose communications director, Andy Coulson, remains close to News International, now faces a major political dilemma. Does he defend plurality and competition, or will he stay loyal to his media patron?

We know that Murdoch visited Downing Street just a week after Cameron became prime minister. Was Cameron leant on to approve the BSkyB deal? We may be about to find out.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The writer who never met his deadlines - but would always swear blind he had

My colleague Susan – tougher than me – said I should just drop him. And then, one day, the matter came to a head.

For this story, I intend to take you back 25 years, to the days when no one in the world had email. It’s quite important that you can picture the primitive scene: we are in the dusty and characterless offices of a small-circulation weekly magazine, staffed by care-worn editors and sub-editors, all old before their time. The prevailing smell is cup-a-soup.

There being no computers or internet, the all-important contributions arrive sometimes by fax machine, sometimes by hand, mostly by post. For me, as literary editor on the second floor, the least effective form of delivery is, oddly, fax. This is because the person who sits beside the fax machine (downstairs) makes it a rule never to inform colleagues when a fax has come for them.

Now, at this time I had a particular contributor who suffered from a strange and infuriating complex, by which he a) was incapable of meeting any deadline but b) always swore blind that he had.

“Where is your book review, Geoffrey?” I asked, routinely, on the phone.

“What?” he said, in mock disbelief. “Isn’t it there? I posted it two days ago/popped it through the letter box myself!”

But then he would seem to remember something.

“What’s your address again? Well, this explains why you didn’t receive it. I got the address wrong. Tell you what, I’ll type it out again tonight!”

I knew he was lying, of course. “Just send me the carbon copy,” I would say. But what do you know? In a freak outbreak of tidiness, he had always thrown the carbon away, or he’d simply forgotten to make one.

“Why don’t you take photocopies, Geoffrey?” I would say. “I hate to think of you typing it all again.” “I WILL TYPE IT AGAIN TONIGHT, LYNNE,” he would insist. And the next day, the piece would duly turn up, and it would be fine.

But how I railed. Why did I have to go along with this charade? My colleague Susan – tougher than me – said I should just drop him. And then, one day, the matter came to a head.

A review was late again. I sent a message via a third party: I wanted his review, but I did not want to hear he had already sent it. Half an hour later, however, there was a message for me that he’d already sent it, actually, but would retype it tonight. Fuming, I burst into Susan’s office. “He’s done it again!” I cried. “He says he already sent it, and I’m so sick of this every time, so sick of all the lies, lies, lies!” At which she said the most wonderful five words of my working life: “Tell him you got it.”

In a million years, I would never have come up with this solution by myself. I sent him a fax, saying: “Sorry, Geoffrey, you were right, I found it on my desk! Great piece. Well done.” And it felt absolutely fantastic.

Next week: David Quantick

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle