Stephen Glover on The Press

Murdoch the kingmaker - and queenmaker too, perhaps
Click to follow
The Independent Online

In Britain Rupert Murdoch does not yet appoint prime ministers, but it seems that in Australia he has acquired that right. Last week he told an Australian journalist in America that it would be a good time for John Howard to retire, while he is "on top of his game". Mr Howard is the 66-year-old Prime Minister of Australia, and Mr Murdoch has decided he should be succeeded by Peter Costello, who last week unveiled his 11th budget.

Mr Costello responded warmly to Mr Murdoch's remarks. "He is an extraordinary, intelligent person," he oozed of the media mogul. He added that Mr Murdoch "could well be Australia's most successful businessman ever," and described him as "a great Australian". Mr Costello had perhaps forgotten that his patron is an American citizen.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Mr Murdoch has adopted an improbable new protégée in Hillary Clinton, a leading Democratic Party contender for the 2008 presidential elections. He is holding a political "fundraiser" in July for her campaign to be re-elected as a senator for New York. Mrs Clinton and the Murdoch media have long been at loggerheads. In 1998 she spoke of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" whose central command may reasonably be supposed to have been Fox News, the right-wing cable channel owned by Mr Murdoch's News Corp. When she first put herself forward for the Senate, the Murdoch-owned New York Post advised on its front page: "Don't Run".

However, Mrs Clinton has been edging rightwards, as her husband once did, which explains why she is happy to be embraced by Mr Murdoch. He is hedging his bets. At heart he remains a supporter of President George W Bush, but he can read the polls, and realises that Mr Bush and the Republicans are in trouble. A Hillary Clinton presidency is imaginable, and so the media tycoon has become Mrs Clinton's unlikely fund-raiser.

The New York Post will shamelessly swallow its former criticisms of her. I shall be watching the Murdoch-owned Sun and Times with interest. Both newspapers have scourged her in the past. As recently as 10 April, Trevor Kavanagh - Murdoch's political commissar on The Sun - wrote dismissively about the "peacenik Hillary Clinton". The papers are awaiting fresh orders. I am looking forward to reading a thoughtful leader in The Times over the coming months which finds hitherto unexplored qualities in the Senator for New York and would-be presidential candidate.

Why do great politicians kow-tow to the media mogul? Obviously because he owns a lot of newspapers and television channels. Yet Murdoch is more a follower of political fashion than someone who seeks to shape it. Perhaps he understands the limits of his power better than many of his critics. He suggests that Mr Howard might go at the very time that the Australian Prime Minister is being ear-marked by others, and possibly himself, for retirement. Meanwhile he extends a hand to Hillary Clinton as her star is rising, and that of Mr Bush is sinking.

And here? In recent weeks The Times and The Sun have been snappy about Tony Blair, more so than ever before, but they have not yet ditched him. They are no more than friendly towards David Cameron. If the Tories remain ahead of a Blair-led Labour party in the polls, and then of a Brown-led one, we can be certain that The Sun and The Times will jump New Labour's ship, but they will not do so until or unless a trend is clear. They join waves that are already gathering force. The great unanswered question is how much bigger they make those waves once they have begun to ride them.

'Telegraph' must be careful who it blames

Disquieting rumours reach me that the Barclay brothers no longer smile upon Murdoch MacLennan, chief executive of the Telegraph Group, quite as they once did. Perhaps they were hoping for more profits than appear to be forthcoming. Conceivably they think that the publicity surrounding the Telegraph has not been all it might be. Whatever the reason, it would be an appalling shame if Mr MacLennan did not enjoy their fullest confidence.

Fortunately, the Barclays are usually loyal to their senior executives. I urge them to remain so in the case of Mr MacLennan. It is not easy to spirit new sales out of the air in a declining market. The poor chief executive is not to be blamed for an advertising recession. Newspapers have always been a difficult business. It is no time to drop the pilot, or even think about it. He has proved time and again that he is a long-term player. Keep faith, is my strong advice.

However, I cannot conceal a degree of concern about a package that landed on my doormat the other day. It was a 'personal invitation' from John Bryant, described as 'editor-in-chief of the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph' to subscribe to both papers for £1.50 a week rather than the £6.15 a week I currently pay. One worry was that photographs of 'the BBC's Andrew Marr', the football pundit Alan Hansen and Sandi Toksvig suggested that these three columnists are regarded as the Telegraph titles' greatest assets.

An even bigger worry was that it is madness to turn me, a loyal reader happy to pay £6.15 a week, into a subscriber paying £1.50. Where is the sense in that? Mr MacLennan must be aware that a similar scheme some 10 years ago at the Telegraph Group succeeded in increasing circulation at the expense of circulation revenue. Surely he is not going down that old path.

A case of the story that didn't fit?

Last Tuesday Dave Roberts, the so-called Director, Enforcement and Removals, at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, said that he did not have the "faintest idea" how many illegal immigrants there were in Britain. Coming from the one man who might be expected to know, this seemed a startling admission. Most of the press, as well as the BBC after a slow start, reported his remarks in full. In the view of some tabloids, here was further proof that we had lost control of our borders.

Yet neither The Guardian nor The Independent nor the FT printed a word of what Mr Roberts said, at any rate in my editions. Were they asleep? Surely not. The stuff was running on the wires and on television. A plausible conclusion is that these liberal-minded newspapers wanted to steer clear of an immigration scandal.

I have this ridiculously old fashioned idea that our first duty is to report the news.

scmgox@aol.com

Comments