It was always inevitable that this Con-Dem government would let Murdoch get his way – as also of course would Blair and Brown, given their craven fawning on him over 13 years. All the stuff about ‘media plurality’, Hunt’s taking ‘careful advice’ from the regulatory authorities, Cameron risibly having to log on to his computer to find out what his government had decided, and now this latest farce about consultation (for which just a fortnight has been conceded) is just so much empty camouflage for a decision pre-emptively taken months ago. All the pretence that this matter has been dealt with strictly according to the book to ensure an independent and impartial decision is just phooey – this is 100% a grubby political decision predetermined by fear of crossing Murdoch and political calculation aimed at fixing the next general election. This is not only despicable, it is also, ironically, a profound delusion of which Britain’s whole political class, Tory and New Labour alike, is guilty.
“It’s the Sun wot won it”, the ridiculous claim trumpeted by Murdoch’s leading comic, that seems unaccountably imprinted on the minds of politicians. The Sun had nothing whatever to do with it. Labour lost in 1992 because of the success of the Tory ‘Labour tax bombshell’ scare, the deep reluctance even among Labour voters to see Kinnock as Prime Minister, and doubts about Labour’s economic competence. Yet political leaders fall over themselves to woo the Murdoch tabloids. Thatcher, no Iron Lady but flattering courtier, allowed Murdoch to circumvent the ownership rules to acquire 40% of newspaper circulation via the Sun, News of the World, Times and Sunday Times. Major’s feeble 1996 Broadcasting Act extended his grip further. Blair flew across the world to Murdoch’s 1997 News International jamboree to assure the media mogul that he had nothing to fear from New Labour, only additional bounty. Yet the irony of all this kow-towing is that newspaper propaganda doesn’t win elections – that’s a fantasy of the proprietors who like to preen themselves on their power. It’s the other way round – proprietors nearly always back the side they expect to win, to garner influence with the new government.
What Labour should now be arguing for is a public debate on redressing the semi-monopoly of media power in Britain which Murdoch represents and a stringent tightening of the media regulations which are now the most lax and pusillanimous in the Western world. Instead of theological discussions about media plurality, we should be demanding that no corporation should be allowed to own more than one daily paper and one Sunday newspaper, that cross ownership between the printed and broadcast media should be prohibited to maximize diversity, that a right of reply be instituted as in several other European countries, that the obliging Press Commission be replaced by a rigorously independent regulatory body, and that public funding be made available on strictly prescribed criteria to facilitate the start-up of new titles. And bringing Murdoch to heel would be very popular when the latest poll reveals that 84% of the electorate thinks nobody should be allowed to have too much media control. If UK Uncut can make the grotesque tax avoidance by billionaires like Green a pressing national issue, why not Uk Unfair to occupy Murdoch outlets on a rolling programme across the country until the politicians get the message?