Media: Rob Brown's column

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The Independent Online
Let's take the Australian-American mogul at his word, for once. For this could be great news for Great Britain plc. If BSkyB is indeed a British business, then its supremo must surely now be prepared to cough up corporate taxes in this country like any other British business

In all my time as a media commentator I have laboured under the belief that Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation is a global media conglomerate that has grown like Topsy not just through inspired risk-taking - although the Dirty Digger has demonstrated a fair amount of that - but by dodging corporation taxes and intimidating elected governments almost everywhere it operates.

But Murdoch insists that this is a travesty of the truth. Not only does News Corp function in a moral manner, he tells us; rather than being a tax-dodging transnational, it is a "British business".

Seeking to explain why Britain's Prime Minister rang his Italian counterpart regarding News Corp-BSkyB's's designs on Silvio Berlusconi's television empire, Murdoch told his own company newsletter The Times last Friday: "This was a perfectly innocent request for information which I would expect from any British business needing help from their government in European- wide investments."

This must have made quite a few people chuckle. Murdoch, after all, is a sort of patriot/ scoundrel who ditched his own nationality at the drop of a bushwhacker's hat in order to muscle into the American media market place.

But let's take the Australian-American mogul at his word, for once. For this could be great news for Great Britain plc. If BSkyB is indeed a British business, then its supremo is, surely, now prepared to cough up corporate taxes in this country like any other British business.

Tony Blair - who will need all the revenue he can get if he is to transform the lives of the poorest subjects of cool Britannia into our (Frank) Field of Dreams - may like to raise this point the next time he and Rupert are having a cosy chat at Chequers.

While he's at it, the PM should also suggest that BSkyB's output should come under the same regulatory gaze as other British broadcasters. Up to now the company has escaped the scrutiny of the Independent Television Commission (ITC) by being strategically registered in Luxembourg.

Gosh, I'd better get a grip, or I'll be getting denounced in print again by Brian MacArthur. MacArthur, I should explain, has one of the most challenging jobs in London journalism - that of penning a weekly press review in The Times without in any way annoying the man who owns 40 per cent of the press in this country.

He certainly managed to keep in with his paymaster last Friday, when he devoted his entire slot to a denunciation of the way Rupert Murdoch gets reported in rival titles. MacArthur also managed to weave in some highly insulting - and, to my mind, legally dodgy - comments about Jonathan Mirsky, the veteran China-watcher who left Wapping recently after exposing the way in which The Times's coverage of that country's Communist dictatorship is determined largely by Murdoch's expansionist ambitions.

According to the bold MacArthur, Mirsky had to leave because he "could not write in a journalistic manner and could not `sell' his stories or write telling `intros'".

MacArthur's allegations must leave many readers of The Times totally mystified as to why a former academic who was allegedly so lacking in basic journalistic skills managed to hold down the post of East Asia editor on The Times for more than four years and, prior to that, managed to serve as the resident China hand on The Observer for two decades.

MacArthur and his mates should be thanking people like me for helping to bring about the supposed new spirit of glasnost at Wapping. For, make no mistake, it is the adverse coverage of the HarperCollins-Chris Patten feud in rival titles that has forced the proprietor of The Times to let his own media commentators operate on a slightly looser leash - for a while, anyway.

The Dirty Digger is no idiot. He is well aware of the PR damage that the Patten affair inflicted on the British bit of his global empire, and is now taking modest steps to restore some illusion of journalistic "integrity".

That must come as a mighty relief to Ray Snoddy. Although he still has the excruciating task of popping up on Sky News to "explain" his paymaster's shady political dealings, the doyen of media correspondents has been given a slight opening to redeem a small part of his journalistic soul. Snoddy even managed to get a story on to the front page of The Times on Friday about Murdoch's recent telephone chat with Tony Blair.

His copy had to be couched in fairly soft language, of course, but any reader of The Thunderer who read between the lines could have detected a thundering admission by Murdoch. Yes, folks, the world's most notorious media mogul does view the British Prime Minister as a political errand boy who can aid the expansion of the media empire - at least for now.

I'm sorry if such revelations upset those who take the Murdoch shilling with a troubled conscience.

All of the above may annoy any simple souls who believe in the quaint old maxim that dog shouldn't eat dog in the newspaper trade. But, as proven by all these damning revelations, monitoring the Murdoch empire shouldn't be left solely to number-crunching media analysts in the City. Besides, they eat dogs in China, don't they?