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Sunday, December 26, 2010

On Vince Cable's foolishness and the dangers posed by the Murdoch empire

Henry Porter has yet another outstanding column in this morning's Observer in which he discusses the consequences of Vince Cable's 'unworldly hubris' and its impact on the future of the British media. He says that if this deal goes through it is likely to reduce the diversity of the media in Britain and will consolidate Murdoch's power over the British political establishment.

I particularly enjoyed the description of Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, as a man who wears the smirk of a serial canary swallower, but the importance of Henry Porter's article lies in the final few paragraphs:

There are obviously greater calls on our attention at the moment – the suppression of writers, actors and political opposition following rigged elections in Belarus, for example, or the new laws in democratic Hungary which will monitor and penalise the media – but if this deal goes through it is likely to reduce the diversity of the media in Britain and will consolidate Murdoch's power over the British political establishment.

So the deal is very important, which is why we must test the Murdoch strategy of "putting himself beyond the possibility of defeat" and waiting for others to make mistakes. It is not good enough to give a foreign businessman, who does not pay taxes here, the enhanced power that will result in the merger simply because he wants it. Perhaps it's time formally to examine his fitness as well as his loyalty to the "fairness and due process" that his employees cited last week. Can he be trusted with this enormous power? While Vince Cable has been found guilty of bringing unfair prejudice to bear on Rupert Murdoch's commercial interests, is it not true that Murdoch's commercial power distorts the political process with much greater force than anything poor Dr Cable managed?

Nowhere is there a better example of the corrosive effects of Murdoch's power than in the phone hacking scandal, which still continues to throw up revelations and hardly shows News International to be the champion of "fairness and due process". If it were, Rebekah Brooks, News International's chief executive, would have answered the summons to attend a parliamentary hearing into the matter and News International would not have bought off claimants whose phones were hacked, or have pursued a policy which involved paying police officers for information on the same police force that was charged with investigating the claims of widespread criminality in the News of the World.

Two weeks ago, papers were released by the high court which seem to suggest that the hacking of phones belonging to the actors Jude law and Sienna Miller by the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire was part of a much wider scheme to use "electronic intelligence and eavesdropping", with the knowledge of senior editorial executives. The document implies that the News of the World carried out illegal surveillance covering "political, royal and showbiz/entertainment" matters. Some 20 separate public figures are in the early stages of suing the News of the World.

These outstanding matters are very serious and it is only sensible that they are openly and satisfactorily resolved before we hand Murdoch's company the complete set of keys to the city gates.

Whatever happens, the transfer of the decision-making process to Jeremy Hunt's department must not make approval of the Murdoch bid to control BSkyB a formality. The decision-making process must be transparent and accountable and all of the issues raised by Henry Porter must be taken into account.
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