Vince Cable has been stripped of all responsibility for media policy after it emerged yesterday that he told two undercover reporters that he had “declared war” on Rupert Murdoch.
The decision over Murdoch’s £7.8bn bid to take over the 61 per cent of BSkyB not already owned by his NewsCorp will now pass to Jeremy Hunt, on the grounds that Cable cannot fulfil the quasi-judicial, decision-making role in the case after expressing a bias.
But is Jeremy Hunt really impartial? Here he is, talking to Broadcast magazine earlier in the year.
First, he is asked whether he would object to Sky News becoming a UK version of Fox News.
It is not going to happen. Sky News knows that audiences want it to remain an impartial news channel. It is not pushing to relax the impartiality requirement because it’s very happy with it.
Second, and perhaps more pertinently, he is asked whether it would matter if Murdoch owned two TV news channels in the UK.
The important thing is not whether a particular owner owns another TV channel but to make sure you have a variety of owners with a variety of TV channels so that no one owner has a dominant position both commercially and politically.
Rather than worry about Rupert Murdoch owning another TV channel, what we should recognise is that he has probably done more to create variety and choice in British TV than any other single person because of his huge investment in setting up Sky TV, which, at one point, was losing several million pounds a day.
We would be the poorer and wouldn’t be saying that British TV is the envy of the world if it hadn’t been for him being prepared to take that commercial risk. We need to encourage that kind of investment.
Labour MPs have rightly raised questions over Hunt’s suitability to judge the case. This matter should not be dropped: it hardly adheres to the spirit of impartiality to transfer the decision from one politician who has expressed an opinion, to another who has simply expressed the opposite opinion.
NewsCorp must be thanking the Telegraph and the BBC (which published Cable’s comments) for an early Christmas present.