Exclusive: Mark Thompson on BSkyB and Murdoch

The director general of the BBC speaks to Joan Bakewell in an exclusive interview with the <em>New S

In an exclusive interview with Joan Bakewell in the New Statesman this week, director-general of the BBC Mark Thompson issues a strong warning about the potential power of Rupert Murdoch if Jeremy Hunt allows the News Corp takeover of BSkyB:

Because of commercial decisions taken ten or 20 years ago, BSkyB is in an utterly commanding position and will have far more money than the BBC or any other media player in the UK to spend on content. . . We're talking about a concentration of media power in the UK that's unheard of in British history and unheard of anywhere else in Europe. The combination of that kind of power with ownership of a significant part of the newspapers people read, as well as an internet service provider - this is extraordinary power.

Thompson goes on to say that he has already called for the decision to be referred to the competition authorities in a letter to Vince Cable and his McTaggart lecture in Edinburgh last year.

In addition, he offers a challenge to the government in the wake of funding cuts to the BBC:

Given the shape of what's happening - the relative decline of other sources of electronic news, the funding security of ITN, the ability of commercial radio to fund news, the difficulty newspapers are having in funding newsgathering - it is going to be more, not less, important that the BBC has sufficient resources to be able universally to deliver high-quality, strictly impartial news to the British public.

Despite his criticism of the media mogul, Thompson refuses to rule out working for Murdoch in the future.

Bakewell: Would you work for Murdoch?
Thompson: (Laughs) I'm fully, fully engaged doing what I'm doing at the moment.
Bakewell: It's not a "no"?
Thompson: I wouldn't regard it as a "yes", either. It's important to look at the shape and balance of our media sector, rather than trying to demonise anyone.

Read the full interview - which also covers BBC impartiality, ageism and executive pay - in this week's New Statesman, out tomorrow.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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If Seumas Milne leaves Jeremy Corbyn, he'll do it on his own terms

The Corbynista comms chief has been keeping a diary. 

It’s been a departure long rumoured: Seumas Milne to leave post as Jeremy Corbyn’s director of communications and strategy to return to the Guardian.

With his loan deal set to expire on 20 October, speculation is mounting that he will quit the leader’s office. 

Although Milne is a key part of the set-up – at times of crisis, Corbyn likes to surround himself with long-time associates, of whom Milne is one – he has enemies within the inner circle as well. As I wrote at the start of the coup, there is a feeling among Corbyn’s allies in the trade unions and Momentum that the leader’s offfice “fucked the first year and had to be rescued”, with Milne taking much of the blame. 

Senior figures in Momentum are keen for him to be replaced, while the TSSA, whose general secretary, Manuel Cortes, is one of Corbyn’s most reliable allies, is said to be keen for their man Sam Tarry to take post in the leader’s office on a semi-permanent basis. (Tarry won the respect of many generally hostile journalists when he served as campaign chief on the Corbyn re-election bid.) There have already been personnel changes at the behest of Corbyn-allied trade unions, with a designated speechwriter being brought in.

But Milne has seen off the attempt to remove him, with one source saying his critics had been “outplayed, again” and that any new hires will be designed to bolster, rather than replace Milne as comms chief. 

Milne, however, has found the last year a trial. I am reliably informed that he has been keeping a diary and is keen for the full story of the year to come out. With his place secure, he could leave “with his head held high”, rather than being forced out by his enemies and made a scapegoat for failures elsewhere, as friends fear he has been. The contents of the diary would also allow him to return in triumph to The Guardian rather than slinking back. 

So whether he decides to remain in the Corbyn camp or walk away, the Milne effect on Team Corbyn is set to endure.

 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.