Mandelson vs. Murdoch

I never expected to agree with Peter Mandelson but it has happened today
Stuart Weir
3 December 2009

I never expected to agree with Peter Mandelson but it has happened today. He has just made a speech in the House of Lords in which he warned that the Murdoch empire is imperiling British broadcasting and pledging the government to fight the Murdoch 'worldview' that profit alone should drive broadcasting and journalism. It might well be that hypocrisy, never far from Peter's window, will strike again and this is his way of improving his bargaining position with the media mogul. But there is a combined onslaught on Ofcom, the media regulator, by both David Cameron and James Murdoch, that has inspired Mandelson to declare that there is a fight on with the Murdoch empire. A bit late it true, but welcome nevertheless.

In my view Labour might seriously consider making the lovey-dovey accord between the Tories and News Corp. into an election issue rather than banging on about Cameron's shady Eton past. It is not just Ofcom that is in the firing line for the dynamic Cameron and Murdoch duo, but the BBC as well. You may well be dissatisfied with the timidity of the BBC's journalism (I certainly am), but its adherence to the statutory 'tradition' of impartial broadcast journalism has been an important check to the toxic Fox News coverage that Murdoch wants to import to this country. Sky News is much the better for being kept out of the gutter by Ofcom and its regulatory framework. I was struck at the time of Cameron's speech on cutting back the quango state supposedly in the interests of the public, that his little list of probable victims - Ofcom among them - suggested that other interests were at stake.

It would serve us all well if Labour raised a few more issues about the relationship between News Corp. and the Tories. It was recently stated in the Observer (and perhaps previously in the Guardian) that Rebecca Brookes (nee Wade), the former editor of the Sun and now the chief executive of Murdoch's New International, had told Cameron that the Sun would not support the Tories if Dominic Grieve remained the shadow Home Secretary. Lo and behold, Grieve was moved on and the Sun switched sides. So what price the Tories' commitment to the defence of civil liberties?

It is of course the case that Labour under Blair, Brown and Mandelson have been ready enough to creep to Murdoch pere and so a belated recognition of the damage that Murdoch fils (who seems more rightwing even than his father) could do in cahoots with a Cameron government may well seem like sour grapes. But it would go down well with me.

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