Monday, November 03, 2008

Do What I Tell You Or My Newspapers Will Bury You

Ex-Australian Rupert Murdoch is back in town, singing the praises of the country he loved so much, he simply had to give up his citizenship so he could make another few billion dollars in the US.

Murdoch is getting an extraordinary amount of coverage in his own newspapers for what was, essentially, a fairly uninspired speech, his first in a series of six Boyen Lectures for the ABC, where he mostly reiterated the Labor Party campaign platform from 2008.

Here's a story that isn't getting any attention at all from his Australian media news drones :
A newly disclosed Down Street memo has revealed how Tony Blair helped Rupert Murdoch overcome an official investigation which was jeopardising one of his big investments. It shows that Blair, while prime minister, immediately ordered his top officials to help the tycoon who was frustrated that a potentially lucrative scheme was being blocked by a long-running European commission investigation.

Blair told the media magnate that "he was instinctively sympathetic to what Murdoch was aiming to achieve".

Blair has been accused of granting political favours to Murdoch in return for support from his newspapers; Lance Price, a former Downing Street spin doctor, said Murdoch seemed to be one of the four most influential people in the administration.

The memo reveals an episode in 1998 - a year after the Sun's conversion to Labour - in which Murdoch appears to call in one of those favours. Murdoch had privately approached Blair when he feared that the European commission investigation was hindering his business opportunities.

Blair gathered members of his inner circle to see the tycoon - his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell; James Purnell, then a Downing Street special adviser on the media and now a cabinet minister; and his press secretary, Alastair Campbell.

Murdoch complained that the investigation by the European competition commissioner into one of his planned television schemes was costing him money. He told Blair: "The competition commissioner, [Karel] Van Miert, had come up a long list of complaints and the project was being delayed at huge cost. Sky's own investment was very significant (£800m so far) and the success of the venture was crucial to their overall plans for developing digital services."

According to the memo of the meeting in January 1998, Blair backed Murdoch, saying "it was important that the UK remained at the cutting edge of developing this kind of media product".

Murdoch's 'on demand' television retail plans were already out of date by 1998, and it was hardly surprising the whole venture went tits up when people found it far easier, and more convenient, to simply shop online through their computers.

But the above story of Murdoch basically blackmailing Tony Blair with 'unfavourable headlines' must be wrong. Surely. Everyone knows Murdoch, of course, has absolutely no influence on the editorial content or direction of any his newspapers. Right?

So far, Murdoch has had far less of an influence over Rudd than he had over Howard, who seemed genuinely terrified of the old gossip. But Murdoch media executives court Rudd and his crew, heavily, excessively. For now, Murdoch's boys come to Rudd and do the groveling. But how long can that last?

It'd be fascinating to know what Murdoch has had to say to Rudd about the government's plans to introduce an internet censorship regime even more restrictive than those in China or Iran. If it helps to peel away some of the online competition, then count it as a win for Murdoch.

Murdoch Admits, With A Laugh, That He Used His Newspapers And TV Shows To Shape Opinion For The War On Iraq

"We Can Change The Way People Think" - Murdoch Admits He Tells His Newspapers What To Print