LibLink | Vince Cable: My brush with the Murdochs – and the lessons I learned

Business Secretary Vince Cable writes today at the Mail on Sunday on his own reaction to the “Murdoch mania” press coverage and his experiences of News International during his first year as a Cabinet Minister:

My own direct experience was as the Minister with responsibility for competition and takeovers.
I had to take a decision on whether to approve or refer the bid from News International to acquire the remaining (just over 60 per cent) shares in BSkyB that it did not already own.

My involvement started with a courtesy call from James Murdoch last summer telling me of the bid and how it needed clearance from the European Commission on competition grounds – which was duly given – and from my department on grounds of ‘media plurality’.

I had no personal beef with him or his company. My phone has never been hacked, as far as I know.

For a Liberal Democrat I had enjoyed a reasonably good press in The Sun and the News of the World. I worried about the concentration of media ownership in the hands of one man, and his family, but there was nothing personal.

I received strong advice from inside and outside Government that I should approve the bid because it wouldn’t change much and it was doubtful that regulators would object.

Voices outside the Government told me that it would be unwise to tangle with such a powerful company. The Government is reluctant to take on vested interests with deep pockets and expensive lawyers.

Many submissions were received by the Government against the bid, however, one of which made a particularly powerful case to investigate plurality.

When I studied the matter further, it became clear that there was an overwhelming case to answer: that the bid could allow News International to become a dominant media company straddling UK Press, TV and other media advertising.

I therefore used the powers I had to refer the bid to Ofcom, the media regulator, so the experts there could consider the matter. Had I not done so the takeover would now be a fait accompli and the balance of power would be very different.

As I waited for the Ofcom report (which was to recommend a full investigation by the Competition Commission), my own sky fell in.

You can read the full piece, including Vince’s account of the Telegraph’s undercover “sting”, his appearance on Strictly, and his views on future rules for media ownership, at MailOnline.

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