Opinion: Vince wasn’t just wrong to say it. He was just wrong

It was an extraordinary day. In front of two total strangers, Vince Cable, still the nation’s Business Secretary, had declared he’d gone to war – and was going to win – against Rupert Murdoch. He also pontificated about how he might use the “nuclear option” against his own cabinet colleagues. To be sure, such extreme militaristic hubris is deeply odd behaviour from a Liberal Democrat. But in the fog of a curious day at Westminster, liberals must not lose sight of the serious policy implications facing British broadcasting.

Rupert Murdoch is an easy hate figure for the centre-left. He is a hardcore capitalist. His British tabloid newspapers often take a right-wing populist line. He is unlikely to become a card carrying member of the LibDems anytime soon. Some people even sign up to wild conspiracy theories about how Mr Murdoch wishes to control our thought processes.

Of course, the reality is rather more prosaic and, indeed, three dimensional. My jaw practically hit the ground a few weeks ago when I heard Rupert Murdoch give a lecture in London in which he placed particular emphasis on the vital importance of giving offenders a “second chance” and taking a more sensible approach to rehabilitation. I may even have applauded if I wasn’t in such a state of clinical shock.

Second guessing Rupert Murdoch’s actual political philosophy is a great hobby. And not a wholly unimportant one. He is a powerful and influential man. But it can’t possibly be the basis for making decisions about the future of the British media.

The test for true liberals is this, surely; is Rupert Murdoch’s power over communications channels so great that we have to worry about his chance of monopolising them? Could he seriously crowd out alternative views? Does he present a clear and present danger to the free flow of ideas? And – a question now specifically facing the Culture Secretary – would News Corporation taking a 100% rather than 39% share of BSkyB really endanger “plurality”.

The answer to all these questions is an emphatic “NO”.

Don’t just take my word for it. The European Commission – hardly natural bedfellows of the Murdoch media empire – have already determined that the News Corporation bid for BSkyB raises no major issues on competition grounds.

The European authorities are right. In spades.

The broadcasting media has been transformed beyond all recognition in recent years. Gone are the days when, as a sixth former, I’d go to my college library on the way to lessons and leaf through the four main broadsheet newspapers searching for a few scraps of information about the “Social & Liberal Democrat” merger negotiations. In 1989, I suppose I could understand someone being worried if all four broadsheets were controlled by the same company. But today, access to the broadcasting market is, almost literally, a million times cheaper and easier than was imaginable a couple of decades ago.

You’d probably need to be awake for more than 24 hours a day just to read the huge array of blogs written by LibDem members, activists and sympathisers. And there’s a vast stream of content from all sides of the political spectrum. As well as monumentally popular websites devoted to specific football clubs, particular TV programmes or any celebrity you care to name.

Social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, don’t merely link people together, they increasingly break news in ways that are wholly uncontrollable by any “editor in chief”.

To be clear, there are huge competitive pressures in the media business. I’d hate to try and run a genuinely profitable local newspaper, covering weather forecasts, sports results and the like. The BBC provides such information fast and for free.

It’s also true that Rupert Murdoch is a pretty big fish. But the pond he was once swimming in has now grown to ocean-like proportions. Compared to truly major media giants such as Google, Murdoch’s News Corporation is a relative tiddler.

It might be politically clever for MPs – of any party – to attempt to position themselves vis-à-vis Rupert Murdoch. Some might even find it a convenient short-hand for flashing their independently-minded “progressive” credentials. I guess being “anti-Murdoch” could be the sort of thing that might impress a couple of constituents visiting you in your surgery.

But it can’t possibly be a sane, sober or sanguine way to determine the British government’s media strategy. Or to judge a proposed £7bn business investment into the United Kingdom. Vince Cable discovered this yesterday to his colossal political cost.

Mark Littlewood is Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs and was previously LibDem Head of Media, 2004-2007

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61 Comments

  • I don’t have a problem with Rupert Murdoch. I wrote the same on these pages about a month ago and received the usual backlash. People like to hate Murdoch, but they don’t actually know why. It’s both bizarre – and amusing.

    Cable should have gone. He should have done the decent thing. As I wrote last week, before this shambles, he appears to be incompetent in office. It’s often the way, seemingley able critics turn out to be inept when the tables are turned.

    As for Cameron’s handling of the matter: Weak! Weak! Weak!

  • Mark, I take it you’ll be sending Mr Murdoch your CV tomorrow?

    BTW, Murdoch forced the “Sun” to write an anti-hanging editorial as long ago as the 1970s. There are a few people on the right who oppose the death penalty – Enoch Powell, Julian Amery and Auberon Waugh, to name but three. It’s one issue and it doesn’t sanitise them.

  • Cable should clearly stay – there have been worse gaffes. You may even be right about his being wrong. But I don’t tally that with demands that he should go. Interesting article Mark – though I disagree and thought you were a tad unfair on the Today programme.

  • Mike(The Labour one) 22nd Dec '10 - 2:02pm

    ‘Rupert Murdoch is an easy hate figure for the centre-left. He is a hardcore capitalist. His British tabloid newspapers often take a right-wing populist line. He is unlikely to become a card carrying member of the LibDems anytime soon.

    The last is a non sequitur.

  • Shouldn’t this be posted in “Independent View” as I was under the impression that Mark had resigned from the party?

  • Dominic Curran 22nd Dec '10 - 2:14pm

    Mark, i rue the day you became a quasi-spokesperson for the LibDems- oddly i have heard more of you since you left than in that brief period when you actually worked for us – as I have rarely, if ever, agreed with anything you’ve said. Given that many of your views seem to sit well to the right of most libdems i know (including MPs) I’m surprised that the party doesn’t try to close you down rather more. I do wish you’d stop saying you’re a libdem – you’re obviously a liberal tory, if not a libertarian.

    By the way, I wonder what the European Commission’s views on the media in Italy are? Presumably theyr’e relaxed about Berlusconi’s ownership there, as it’s been allowed to happen? If so, then their views on Murdoch are meaningless.

    In the fight between an elected politician trying to curb the excess power of a media magnate and a dodgy jounalistic practice, i know who’s side i’m on. It’s juts a tragedy that Vince has been punished for saying the first thing i’ve agreed with him on in months.

  • Good job this bod’s ex-head of media

  • Dominic Curran – I presume you are aware that the Lib Dems are descended from the Liberal Party? The Party of laissez-faire, free trade etc. It is therefore hardly surprising that it has libertarian or classical liberal members.

  • “Mark Littlewood is Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs and was previously LibDem Head of Media, 2004-2007”

    Oh yes, the IEA. Thatcher’s favourite extreme right wing, anti-trade union, anti-nationalisation, anti-public sector, anti -socialist think tank. It’s axiomatic that you’d be pro Murdoch. “And was previously LibDem Head of Media.”
    Another reason why we Labourites regard all the Lib Dems as Tories.

    Still, there is one good thing to emerge from the shambles Cable has left in his wake: having seen the contrasting manner in which Cable and Lord Young were treated by Cameron, Tory backbenchers will conclude that it now pays to be completely candid and will express their dissent openly. They will no longer be cowed. This will speedily bring about the demise of this completely incompetent Tory led coalition.

  • Dominic Curran 22nd Dec '10 - 2:32pm

    Hi Richard,

    Thanks for telling me the bleeding obvious. I must say i’ve never met any members in nearly 20 years who have so consistently been to the right of centre as Mark. I do think he belongs in a different party, despite his laudable interest in the SLDP in the late 80s.

  • Foregone Conclusion 22nd Dec '10 - 2:34pm

    “Oh yes, the IEA. Thatcher’s favourite extreme right wing, anti-trade union, anti-nationalisation, anti-public sector, anti -socialist think tank. It’s axiomatic that you’d be pro Murdoch. “And was previously LibDem Head of Media.”
    Another reason why we Labourites regard all the Lib Dems as Tories. ”

    If you think Mark Littlewood is in any way typical of anyone other than himself, then you’re very much mistaken. I am puzzled why, despite no longer being a Liberal Democrat at all and undoubtedly having major differences with 95% of the party, he is still on speed-dial for the BBC when they want a Lib Dem.

  • I agree with what Mark Littlewood says. Murdoch doesn’t really appear to be gaining any more power out of this, mainly just more profits.
    Whilst I believe that the media has a moral duty to portray news in a balanced way, excessive regulation could allow for the government to have more control over media, which of course, could have its own problems.

    My instincts lead me to believe that it’s up to people and broadcasters to find a way to make a balanced view appealing to the public.

    My main problem with this story though is, has Cable become a lame duck minister? He seems to have had a lot of power taken away from him, not just the BskyB issue. Is there really much point of him staying in his job if he’s merely there there to convince people of coalition unity? Doesn’t sound like we the electorate would gain a great deal from that.

    That said I don’t think Cable should be treated too harshly. Take responsibility for the Murdoch away from him, yes, but let’s start judging people on their actions, and not exuberant comments made in private (to possibly very attractive women.)

  • Nick (not Clegg) 22nd Dec '10 - 3:01pm

    “The test for true liberals is this, surely; is Rupert Murdoch’s power over communications channels so great that we have to worry about his chance of monopolising them? Could he seriously crowd out alternative views? Does he present a clear and present danger to the free flow of ideas? And – a question now specifically facing the Culture Secretary – would News Corporation taking a 100% rather than 39% share of BSkyB really endanger “plurality”.”

    My answer to all these questions is an emphatic “YES.

    The views of the European Commission on this are irrelevant. they were judging by entirely different criteria from those upon which Ofcom has been asked to report.

    Murdoch’s views on individual issues are not the issue. His overweaning power and ownership of already far too much of the British media are, or should be, matters of grave concern. I agreed with the late Dennis Potter’s comment, shortly before his death, when he said that if he could he’d “shoot the b****r.”
    The trouble is that, apart from the ethical and legal difficulty, shooting “the bu****r” would do nothing to dismantle his pernicious empire.

    It’s a real tragedy that Cable’s folly has resulted in the power to decide this issue passing from his hands into those of the MP for South West Surrey (what’s his name again, Jeremy something?)

  • Dominic Curran 22nd Dec '10 - 3:46pm

    @ Andy

    “it’s just not clear what the problem is ‘a war with Murdoch’ is attempting to solve”

    How about a bit of natural justice for an organisation whose outlets regularly rail against tax dodgers and benefit cheats while hypocritically only paying 7% tax on its UK profits?

  • @Andy Mayer

    I suggest that if the Liberal Democrats paid more attention to “ad hominem” views they might not be plummeting in the polls!

  • Mr. Murdoch must be opposed for this simple reason: in my home country of the US, he has poisoned the political discourse almost beyond repair with Fox News. Lest we forget, Mr. Murdoch’s Fox News (and many of his other media outlets) is a cheerleader for wars, is anti-gay rights (and rights for other minorities), unfriendly towards basic human rights (supporting torture),worships the military and is against any decent help for the poor, sick and disabled. I really do fear that we may be headed down that route here in the UK, and the views Murdoch usually express are, I would think, against what the LibDems would normally stand for. I use the term “normally” as these are strange times…LibDems supporting cutting back on help for the disabled, for example, shows why so many people no longer trust you or think of you as compassionate.

    To see other LibDems supporting Mr. Murdoch and his extreme right-wing views is very telling. And this is another reason why, whenever we have the next election, your party will suffer very, very badly. Of course, I’m sure once the BSKYB deal goes through, Clegg will be wheeled out to explain why it is “fair-n-progressive”.

  • It is very disconcerting that Mark Littlewood always seems to appear as a rent a quote Lib Dem. It says something about how our current media operation is lacking. His views would put him on the right of the Tory party, let alone the Lib Dems.

  • What ever your political persuasion, this is an appalling piece of reporting. The editor’s code of practise has been broken in regard to section 10:

    Clandestine devices and subterfuge
    i) The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held private information without consent.

    All MP’s will now be on the guard in an environment which should be private and confidential as much for the constituent as the MP. This will have the effect of reducing openness between the MP and their voters!
    And labour MP’s should beware being oportunistic, you will be next for sure!.

  • Whether or not Murdoch taking control of Sky is bad for *competition* (which the ECC investigated) is a different question from whether or not it’s bad for *plurality* (which Ofcom is investgating).

    Yes, there are plenty of other possible sources for news/comment in the world now, but you still have to consider the relative size and influence of them. Sky is the biggest private broadcaster in the UK. The Times and Sun newspapers are two of the best-respected and best-selling (respectively!) publications in the UK. However many independent or differently-aligned blogs or newspapers or broadcasters there are, if a Murdoch-owned Sky and the Times/Sun had a majority market share that would be a problem.

    They don’t at the moment, of course, and I don’t pretend to really know enough about it to make an informed decision. But, it’s not enough to say ‘Oh but there are blogs and other newspapers’. It’s about market share, but simple number of outlets.

  • I also don’t see, incidentally, any real justification for the Telegraph’s actions. If there was no prima facie suggestion that Cable would say similar things then it’s pathetic fishing, and even if there was his comments are not significant enough to warrant subterfugre.

    What he said was in the public interest to report, but not sufficiently to justify the methods used to obtain it.

  • LibDem Candidate 22nd Dec '10 - 4:17pm

    I am choosing to stay anonymous on this occasion, but, as someone who stood for Parliament as a Liberal Democrat in May, I am furious. Imagine the reaction in Lib Dem ranks if Vince had said he had “declared war on the BBC”. For the Business Secretary, ruling impartially on the BSkyB bid, to say what he said is appalling. Utterly appalling. If the Business Secretary behaved like that in a country that was seeking to join the EU, it would be cited as a reason not to let the country in. So, is our supposedly impartial Business Secretary also declaring war on Tesco or on Barclays? This is not good governance. Nick Clegg should have insisted that this guy was sacked from the Cabinet, to demonstrate that Liberal Democrat standards are higher than this.

    I personally would want Ofcom or Competition Commission, whichever it is, to probe the bid – but that’s been made less likely now, hasn’t it?

  • @LibDem

    Surely everyone new Vince Cables views, nothing has been reported that is a surprise surely! The bigger issue for all MP’s and for open government is the damage caused by the DT when they used a secret listening device in an MP’s surgery where there was no wrong doing to justify it. Everything else attached to this ‘Scoop’ is just bilge and from what i can see common knowledge.

    As for Murdoch and if he gets all of BSkyB, does anyone really think he is not in control of the news output already? And doesn’t the BBC look after the left and therfore give balance? I am Beeb supporter but i am finding it harder to support them as they become increasingly biased to the left and anti Coaltion and specifically anti LibDem.

  • @ William

    “And labour MP’s should beware being oportunistic, you will be next for sure!.”

    But they already have been stitched up by undercover reporters! Remember “I am a cab for hire” ?

  • Mark, couldn’t disagree more. Vince was right to think it, but wrong to say it out loud (I think he accepts that too.)

    What the NewsCorp takeover will produce is a media company which is, in total, bigger than the BBC. It will control four national newspapers, two of which are the biggest selling in their field (the Sun and NOTW.) It will control a TV news channel which is the only domestic alternative to the BBC. It will control access to the only digital television platform available to the entire UK, and will charge whatever it likes to do so. It will then be in a position to push for the ending of restrictions on political bias (Murdoch has already said he wants Sky News to become a Fox News UK.) It already has a virtual monopoly on sports coverage, which will allow it to dictate to the likes of the Premier League and the cricket authorities the price of their deal.

    It’s really the newspapers which cause the problem. If News Corp didn’t have this, then probably the Sky takeover wouldn’t be a problem. IMO, the likely outcome of Vince’s review would have been to force News Corp to sell one or two of the newspapers – probably the Sunday titles – in the same way that BAA was forced to sell Gatwick & Glasgow airports.

  • @MacK

    Point taken. This is way more serious though in my view and all MP’s will now be very wary in a situation where they should be able to speak freely. I agree Vince was a twit but i still do not think the DT had the right to go in there as they did. The ends DO NOT justify the means in this case.

  • Dominic Curran 22nd Dec '10 - 4:36pm

    @ LibDem candidate

    I must say i’m surprised at your views. Given that a former editor of the Sun said during the election that it was his paper’s editorial policy to ignore the libdems – so to exclude you and anything you might have to say as a matter of policy- and given that it is less likely that a print and broadcast media dominated by News Corp would give you any promience at all if they could possibly help it, you’re displaying a remarkable amount of sang froid about the affair. You’re not a Sky troll, are you?

    Speaking of which…

    i have a mate who works for a lobbying company with whom Sky have an account. The lobyists are being paid by Sky to discredit the BBC and to push stories and events that will reduce people’s trust in it, so undermining the case for the licence fee. If you want to support Sky in this enterprise, then by all means, don’t declare war. But I don’t, and i want to support public service broadcasting against Murdoch. If that means fighting fire with fire, so be it.

  • LibDem Candidate 22nd Dec '10 - 4:37pm

    Oh, and stop attacking Mark Littlewood personally. An awful lot of Liberal Democrats most certainly do share his views on a lot of things.

  • Dominic Curran 22nd Dec '10 - 4:42pm

    @ LibDem Candidate

    “Oh, and stop attacking Mark Littlewood personally. An awful lot of Liberal Democrats most certainly do share his views on a lot of things.”

    Apart from ID cards, I’ve never known any libdems to share very much politically with ML. From what I’ve heard of him on Newsnight and the Today programme, I muist say I’ve hardly ever agreed with him, and I know many in the party who feel the same. The balance of comments above reflects this.

    Hmm, you think Vince was wrong to have the views he had (rather than to share them) and you agree with Mark Littlewood…you’re not Mark Littlewood by any chance, are you?

  • Grammar Police 22nd Dec '10 - 4:48pm

    Why would it have made the competition authorities less likely to probe the bid, “LibDem Candidate”?
    It’s their job.
    The Hulture Secretary is certainly more likely to allow the decision than Vince was.

  • Grammar Police 22nd Dec '10 - 4:49pm

    @ LibDem candidate
    “Oh, and stop attacking Mark Littlewood personally. An awful lot of Liberal Democrats most certainly do share his views on a lot of things.”

    I’m not condoning any attacks on Mr Littlewood, but very few grass roots Liberal Democrats “share his view on a lot of things”.

  • The whole deal seems to be just one set of media barons trying to undermine another set. Hence the telegraph withholding Vince’s comments on Murdoch as they also want Murdoch to be blocked for their own business interests. Any democrat should look askance at a political meddler like Murdoch getting such a big slice of the Uk media. I remember the ferocity of the Sun towards Kinnock and labour during the 8os. The infamous ‘The Sun what won it’ headline should remind people of the baleful influence of Murdoch and his desire to shape the politics of a country to suit his own business interests. The sanctimonious twaddle springing from Labour on this issue today is quite frankly rank opportunism of the worse kind. No doubt trying to win back the patronage of Murdoch that help keep New labour in power for so long. I have signed many grassroots petitions from Avaarz, 38 degrees etc pressing Vince to block this expansion. I am heartened that he was himself ready to take on these undemocratic interests rather than wave it through. I hope those labour members who signed those petitions are now writing to their labour Mps to pressure them to get on side and oppose the takeover. Rather than use the opportunity to make cheap political capital.

  • It does seem very hypocritical of the Telegraph to think that secretly recording an MP in his constituency office is acceptable, but the Wikileaks disclosures are wrong on the grounds that if governments have to be able to keep some things secret.

  • Leslie K. Clark 22nd Dec '10 - 5:58pm

    Whatever you think of Mark Littlewood, it would be a lot better if people stuck to commenting on the article itself. If you don’t agree with what he has said, criticise it.

  • LibDem candidate: I’m so pleased you weren’t standing in my constituency. If you seriously believe in many of the same things as Mark Littlewood I wouldn’t have been able to bring myself to vote for you.

    From the words “Rupert Murdoch is an easy hate figure for the centre left” early in Mark Littlewood’s article I knew what the thrust of the argument would be. Murdoch is a corrosive influence on our society and anyone who supports him is not my sort of liberal.

  • I do wonder whether the vitriol directed at Murdoch is mostly due to his influence or due to the fact that he is right-wing. If his media outlets promoted left-wing and liberal views I suspect criticism from certain quarters might be more muted.

  • “is Rupert Murdoch’s power over communications channels so great that we have to worry about his chance of monopolising them? Could he seriously crowd out alternative views? Does he present a clear and present danger to the free flow of ideas?”

    The ABC circulation figures show that the Sun sold on average 2,898,113 copies a day in November – that is 37% share of the whole “tabloid” (as it used to be defined) market and 56% share of the “red tops”. The Times had a 26% share of the daily qualities. The News of the World had a 54% share of the red top Sundays and a 37% share of the tabloid Sundays as whole. The Sunday Times has a 52% share of the quality Sundays market. Overall the Sun and Times has a 35% share of the daily newspaper market. And the News of the World and Sunday Times a 42% share of the Sunday market. These are big numbers if you double the circulation to approximate the readership around 7 million plus people are reading a Murdoch paper on any one day.

    There are lots of blogs now but I note that Lib Dem Voice claims a readership of 65,000 a month. Blogs are a pimple, even combined compared to the mountain that is News International/Sky. Obviously traditional papers have also been able to drive massive numbers of readers to their online websites. The BARB website gives ratings for Sky News and BBC News channel (not for example CNN) and on that basis Sky News has a weekly reach of 6.3 million people – a 36% share of the BBC News/Sky News viewership. Obviously Sky News has to obey UK regulations for news impartiality. But I would have concerns about this amount of influence by one man even if it was Chris Rennard! I think even without direct owner influence, there is a tendency for an organization to share the same world view. And it is easy to take the same facts and to shape them into two (or more) stories that read completely differently.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Dec '10 - 7:07pm

    The Liberal Democrats have done everything that Mark Littlewood and his like wanted the party to do. The result is that we are facing political annihilation. There is nothing more that can be usefully said about Mr Littlewood than that.

  • And – a question now specifically facing the Culture Secretary – would News Corporation taking a 100% rather than 39% share of BSkyB really endanger “plurality”.

    Didn’t Murdoch put his own son in charge of BSkyB a few years ago? I don’t see how he can have much more power than he already has over it.

  • David from Ealing 22nd Dec '10 - 7:51pm

    My problem with Mark Littlewood is that almost every time he appears on television he puts the knife in and turns it ever so slowly. With friends like that….

  • Nick (not Clegg) 22nd Dec '10 - 7:58pm

    Richard,

    Speaking for myself, you are wrong, wrong, wrong.

    The issue, for me, is the concentration of media power in the hands of one man or one organisation.

    It is dangerous and it needs to be resisted. That would be true even if those at the top of the said organisation were entirely benign which, by the way, they are not.

  • There really needs to be a law or something against clandestine listening devices. If the Telepgraph reporters had tapped Vinces’s phone then there would be legal consequences. If they had left a bugging device in his office then this would be illegal as well. Yet the ‘tapping’ of a private conversation in an MPs office without the MPs knoweldge is regarding as some as good investigative journalism.

    Where will it all end? There are unlimited ways that a person can record someone’s private conversation, epsecially as audio and video devices are so small and cheap these days. A person really has the right to know if their conversation is being recorded.

  • LibDem Candidate 22nd Dec '10 - 8:40pm

    I said that what has happened makes it less likely that the deal will now be referred to the competition authorities. It is really quite simple. Ofcom is due to report before 31 December, at which point the relevant Cabinet Minister must decide whether or not to refer the deal to to the Competition Commission, should Ofcom have recommended such a thing. Everyone knew that Vince Cable was likely to follow an Ofcom recommendation to refer this takeover to the Competition Commission. This made it very likely that the deal would be blocked, thank goodness, as the takeover is terrible news for the long-term future of cultural life in this country, and the BBC in particular. It was wonderful that a Lib Dem Business Secretary was going to be the person deciding on this.

    But, now that Vince Cable has destroyed the quasi-judicial independence of his office, the decision has been taken away from him and given to the Tory Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt (along with responsibility for broadcasting more generally, which has, thanks to Vince Cable’s crass indiscretion, been taken from a Lib Dem Cabinet Minister and handed to a Tory one – could this be any more serious?). Jeremy Hunt has previously indicated that he does not see a particular problem with News Corp taking over the part of BSkyB that it does not already own; nor is he known to be particularly well-disposed towards the BBC. The European Commission has approved the deal. When the Ofcom report comes to Jeremy Hunt, he will be entitled, legally, to say that there is no need to refer the deal to the Competition Commission, as the competition issues have already been resolved by the European Commission – he is allowed to do that even if Ofcom recommends that the deal be referred to the Competition Commission. In other words, Jeremy Hunt will probably not refer the deal and it will go through – dealing a body blow to the BBC and the cultural health of this country. This would be catastrophic.

    It was great news that Vince Cable was dealing with this, as it meant that the deal might be prevented, the BBC saved, etc. But Mr Cable’s gross incompetence means that he is no longer dealing with it, i.e. he has made it less likely that the deal will be referred to the Competition Commission. It is incredibly serious. It is disastrous for the cultural life of this country. I am very angry and cannot forgive Vince Cable for messing up something so important, with such terrible long-term consequences. And I say that as someone who was proud to stand as a Liberal Democrat candidate at the General Election in May. This is appalling.

  • John fraser 22nd Dec '10 - 8:56pm

    An article that totally misses the point .

    Why oh why does mark try to say that Murdochs politics might be Ok . You are ofcourse wrong in fact Mark but the argument itself is flawed . It is the fact that Murcoch has tried to become a Quasi politician and unduly influence parties through crude threats of rubbishing them in the media that makes him so dangerous .

    I dispair at Cables clumsy remarks , as this could have been one of the very few worthwhile things the Lib dems in the coalition would have achieved .

  • Simon McGrath 22nd Dec '10 - 9:15pm

    Fascinating how many people attack Mark L personally rather than what he actually said. I assume because they lack the intellectual capacity to do so.

  • Patrick Smith 22nd Dec '10 - 9:31pm

    The ultimate decision is whether or not Mr Murdoch should be allowed within national broadcasting law to become a 100% sole share holder of BSkyB ? Or should the decision not be for Government to make a judgement on but rather ought it be made independently by an outside body and media scrutineer?

    It is the case that the BBC has to be answerable to its Board as to fairness and public responsibility and obligation to the licensees .By and large the BBC has over 70 years,according to public opinion, lived up to its role as a public servant and with integrity and added value added for the listener and viewer.

    News Corporation,however, operates in a vastly different private sphere of broadcasting and the question to be raised is how to define impartiality and fairness?

    News Corp. is a signatory to impartiality but in reality will it deliberatly choose to seek out news stories to put spin and bias into the public mind, if it holds a monopoly in the future, particularly, in its management of political `sound-bites’ during Gneral Elections?

    Where are the public safeguards and who can and will say what fairness in public broadcasting is?

  • @William

    Re: Editors COP Section 10 it is marked with an asterisk which leads to the following section:

    There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.

    1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
    i) Detecting or exposing crime or serious impropriety.
    ii) Protecting public health and safety.
    iii) Preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

    I would suggest that Vince was absolutely guilty of iii) as he clearly misled the public as to his support for some Government policy.

    I would also suggest (although the Telegraph did not look for, or publish this) that he was guilty of i) as his stated views and actions stopped him being able to carry out the quasi-judicial role that was part of his office. Had he made a judgement and these comments were later to become known he would have opened the floodgates for hugely costly leagl action against HMG.

  • I’m really worried what this means for the Digital Economy Act…..
    Jeremy Hunt will now be deciding on disconnection length. Sigh.

  • It’s perfectly possible to set up a left wing TV station or radio station by the way. The problem with Murdoch isn’t that he’s right wing, but because monopolies destroy competition and wreck markets.

    I’m anti nationalisation for the same reason. We don’t want a media industry which is entirely dominated by one empire which crushes competition and diversity. Sky has already forced Ondigital, ITV digital, setanta sports out of the market, we don’t want channel 4 and virgin media going the same way.

    If he wants a fox news in the UK, fine. We already have right-wing radio shows like Jon Gaunt and James Whale and if you don’t like it, don’t listen. Why don’t left-wing broadcasters get together and set up a left-wing station to rival the right wing shock jocks? Ken Livingstone and George Galloway do radio shows, why not get people like them on the TV if there’s such a right-wing bias?

    By all means criticise him for wanting a monopoly, but being right-wing isn’t the problem.

  • Jeremy Hunt would have to have a very good reason to go against an Ofcom recommendation to refer. As I understood it, the EU looked only at the competition in the television market, but explicitly stated that the investigation only applied to competition within the EEA and goes on to say that the findings “are without prejudice to the ongoing investigation by the competent UK authorities of whether the proposed transaction is compatible with the UK interest in media plurality, which is different from the commission’s competition assessment. The UK remains free to decide whether or not to take appropriate measures to protect its legitimate interest in media plurality (as permitted under article 21 of the EU Merger Regulation).”

    So Ofcom still have to consider whether the creation of such a large media empire within the UK is good for the country. I still think News Corp will be told by Ofcom to sell one of the newspapers (though I think they should go further and force the separation of ownership of the TV channels and the broadcasting platform) – it will then be up to Jeremy Hunt to decide whether or not to accept the recommendations and, if not, produce a valid argument why.

  • LibDem Candidate 23rd Dec '10 - 3:56pm

    I take the point about anonymity, but I don’t think that the Lib Dems are well-served by named candidates expressing displeasure at events, as it merely gives the media another stick to beat us with! Hence my remaining anonymous on this occasion. I should say that the Coalition Government has, overall, done the Lib Dems and the country proud and I’m sure it will continue to do so.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Dec '10 - 6:20pm


    It’s perfectly possible to set up a left wing TV station or radio station by the way.

    Yes, it’s perfectly possible to dine at the Ritz every day as well.

    You might find that big business is less happy about advertising on a TV or radio station which attacks it than on one which pumps out its propaganda. It used to be sheer numbers that the left could bring to challenge the power of the right, but Murdoch’s anti-politics propaganda is all part of getting rid of that. It’s a much easier world for the rich if the poor are constantly told not to bother with politics, it’s a nasty dirty busienss not for the likes of them.

  • MSNBC in the USA does perfectly well as a left-wing news outlet. Again, it’s clear from ignorant comments like this that most left-wing people dislike Murdoch mainly because he is not left-wing. Therefore, he becomes a legitimate target for political attack, including interference in his business affairs on political grounds. This would be to be expected among the authoritarian left-wing to which we are accustomed, but it is a remarkable opinion for alleged liberals to hold.

  • @ LibDem Candidate

    …and meanwhile in the real world!

    Of course, one would expect such self-delusion from an LD member and candidate. Hell, I’m sure you even believe it to be true….. perhaps you’d like to try that line out on some actual voters on the doorstep however before trotting it out so glibly. Preaching to the converted is one thing, convincing those of us who think the Coalition is a car crash to vote for you in future is likely to prove more of a challenge.

  • Dominic Curran 24th Dec '10 - 11:10am

    @ Edward
    ” Again, it’s clear from ignorant comments like this that most left-wing people dislike Murdoch mainly because he is not left-wing. ”

    That may the case for some, but i don’t like him becuase his company hypocritically rails against benefit cheats and tax dodgers while arranging its tax affairs so that it only pays 7% tax on its profits. While perfectly legal, and no different to many other companies, it is still rank hypocrisy in terms of the spirit of the law. Combine this with the giant bucket of poo his papers pour over public life every day and it’s easy to see why so many decent, reasonable and yes, liberal, people oppose him. Fight fire with fire.

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