Thursday, November 12, 2009

Has Cameron done a deal with Murdoch?

The Labour party are alleging that David Cameron has come to a deal with Rupert Murdoch to ensure support for the Tories; and that, in return, Cameron is offering to tailor Tory policies on media regulation and the BBC to suit the commercial interests of News International.

Examples of the apparent tie-in between what News International's boss, James Murdoch, wants, and what David Cameron is ready to promise include the recent decision by the Conservatives to abandon the idea of "top slicing" the BBC licence fee. It had been proposed that part of the money paid to the BBC would be siphoned off to help regional television companies meet the threat from the internet. But this would also have helped them compete more effectively against Sky News, which is part of the Murdoch media empire.

When the policy was abandoned in September, Jeremy Hunt, the shadow Culture Secretary, said that it was because enacting it might make the commercial television companies "focus not on attracting viewers but on attracting subsidies". There was no gain for the BBC in the climbdown, because David Cameron had already said that the Tories will freeze the licence fee. What it will mean is that the BBC's income will be capped, without the regional television companies seeing any government help, which will strengthen the market position of Britain's only satellite television company, Sky. "This was done for News International," a Tory insider said yesterday. "Murdoch wants Sky to go head to head with the BBC. He doesn't want the independent companies strengthened."

In April 2008, James Murdoch complained bitterly about the media regulator Ofcom in his first major speech after taking over as chief executive of News Corporation in Europe and Asia. The following year, David Cameron announced that a Conservative government would cut Ofcom down to size.

Last summer James Murdoch attacked the "abysmal record" of the BBC Trust – the body created by Labour to over see the BBC – in a lecture he gave at the Edinburgh Festival, singling out its "total failure" to stop the BBC buying the Lonely Planet travel guides, a takeover that Murdoch denounced as an "egregious" invasion of private enterprise by the state. Less than two months later, Jeremy Hunt promised that the Tories would abolish the Trust.

In the same lecture, Murdoch complained that BBC performers like Jonathan Ross are being paid salaries that "no commercial competitor can afford". He had barely uttered the words before Ed Vaizey, a shadow media minister, promised that a Tory government would compel the BBC to publish the salaries of its top performers.

I know that Cameron would do simply anything to become the PM, but the links between what News International want, and how quickly the Tories jump every time News International make their views known, is pretty hard to ignore.

Cameron would do whatever Murdoch asked of him. And that point is now being made by very senior Labour figures.

Lord Mandelson alleged yesterday that the Conservatives and News International had "effectively formed a contract, over the head, incidentally, of the newspaper's editor and their readers, in which they are sort of bound to one another".

Speaking to the BBC's Today programme, he added: "What The Sun can do for the Conservatives during the election is one part of the contract and, presumably, what the Conservatives can do for News International if they are elected is the other side of the bargain. But there is a wider question. When The Sun creates the news in this way, this is then followed up by Sky News, which then puts pressure on the BBC to follow suit."

This is all coming out because of The Sun's recent attack on Gordon Brown over a letter which he sent to the mother of a soldier who died in Afghanistan last month in which Brown got the family name wrong. The intensity of the attack, and the inference that Brown was callous and caused great offence, has not been received by the public in the way which The Sun surely wanted.

But there were signs yesterday that the attack may have rebounded on The Sun. Mr Brown, who is blind in one eye, has admitted that his handwriting is bad and has apologised to Mrs Janes, whose 20-year-old son, Jamie, was killed by a makeshift bomb in Afghanistan last month.

A poll yesterday for the website PoliticsHome, whose main shareholder is the Conservative Party deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft, found that 65 per cent of those polled thought that The Sun's attack was "inappropriate" compared with 23 per cent who thought it was "legitimate".

It is also being reported that Cameron had personally consulted the editor of The Sun, Dominic Mohan, three times before abandoning his "cast iron" promise that the Tories would hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

I find none of this remotely surprising. I have been trying for months now to work out just what exactly it is that David Cameron believes in, and I find him almost impenetrable. He will, literally, say anything - the vaguer the better - to ensure his own advancement.

Cameron and his bunch of Etonian cronies are creeping towards power - promising referendums to those who want them and attacks on BBC regional funding to those who would like to see that - but, as his recent climbdown regarding the Lisbon treaty shows, there is no guarantee that he will, in the end, deliver.

He's an empty suit, saying anything to get into office. Once he's there, he will simply make it up as he goes along. This is not a serious figure with a serious political message. If he had a political message, he would have given it to us by now. But, at the moment, he simply doesn't have one.

Don't get me wrong, he might acquire one once he gets into office, but for now, that ambition alone - getting into Number 10 - is far more important to him than what he will do once he gets there.

Click here for full article.


daveawayfromhome said...

Back during the GOP's Contract With America days, Republicans in congress were voting to slash moneys (cutting something like 200 million plus) given to our public broadcasting network at the same time that they were giving the FOX network a tax break in excess of 600 million. You can see where that led. PBS has yet to recover from that blow. My local National Public radio station spends two weeks out of every three months doing fund-raising.

Kel said...

Cameron will do the same here. He'll sell out the BBC if he thinks Murdoch will help to get him elected.