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3 December 2009

Mandelson and Murdoch: it’s war!

The Business Secretary's most strident attack yet

By George Eaton

Lord Mandelson has launched his most polemical attack yet on the Murdoch empire, warning explicitly of its plan to import “Fox-style news” to Britain.

What’s fascinating about Mandelson’s latest intervention is how strident his language is. Normally cabinet ministers preface any criticism of a media organisation (particularly one as large as News Corp) with some token praise for its “contribution to national life”, or declare that “regretfully, on this issue, we disagree”.

But here, not in a BBC studio, but in the House of Lords, is a double-barrelled assault on News Corp and all it stands for:

They believe that profit alone should drive the gathering and circulation of news rather than allowing a role for what they call “state-sponsored journalism”. The government and this bill reject this world-view, and I hope that the whole House, including the Conservatives, will make clear today that they think likewise, and that they will support Ofcom — including its efforts to ensure consumers are getting a fair deal in the pay-TV market.

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It’s worth contrasting Mandelson’s words with those of Gordon Brown who, amid the vulgar campaign against him by the Sun, said of Murdoch: “I have got a great deal of respect for what he has done, and I hope that he has some respect for me.”

Despite this, the Prime Minister almost certainly sanctioned Mandelson’s assault on Murdoch. That means we’re witnessing something like a good cop/bad cop routine.

That said, Mandelson’s speech was less of an assault on Murdoch Sr than it was an attack on his son and heir apparent, James Murdoch. The extract I cited was an explicit rebuttal of the last line of Murdoch Jr’s MacTaggart Lecture, which declared that “the only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit”.

The response from James, the Murdoch family’s own polemicist, should be worth waiting for.


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