Stephen Glover on The Press
Non-interfering, anti-celebrity – is Murdoch the Dalai Lama of media?
Monday 28 January 2008
When Rebekah Wade and Andrew Neil are at odds, which of them should one support? Why, the one who is telling the truth, of course.
Two weeks ago, Wade, who edits The Sun, appeared before the House of Lords communications committee. She painted a picture of Rupert Murdoch, the paper's proprietor, as having no more editorial influence than the doorman. When asked about her relationship with Murdoch, and his role in determining which political party The Sun should support, she replied: "It just doesn't happen." She conceded that he chose the paper's editor, but that was about as far as his involvement went.
Neil, a former editor of The Sunday Times, a paper also controlled by Murdoch, has subsequently given a dramatically different account. In evidence before the same committee last week, he said that he "did not recognise [Wade's] description of how The Sun operates". When he was at the Sunday paper, "the editor of The Sun would get daily telephone calls" from Murdoch.
How can two lovers of the truth give such differing testimonies? One possible explanation is that Murdoch's global media empire has expanded since Neil left The Sunday Times in 1994, so The Sun may loom less large in his calculations than it once did. Moreover, time has not stood still, and at 76 the great proprietor may not be quite as hands-on or hyperactive as he was 15 years ago.
Alas, this will not really do, as there is another recent piece of evidence that contradicts Wade's version of events, and supports Neil's. And who might have supplied this? The chairman and chief executive officer of News Corp, aka Rupert Murdoch.
On 17 September last year, the very same Lords communications committee interviewed him in New York. Murdoch said that "the law" prevents him from instructing the editors of The Times and The Sunday Times, and that he "nominates" their editors.
He explained, however, that he was a "traditional proprietor" so far as The Sun is concerned. According to the meeting's minutes, "He exercises editorial control on major issues – like which party to back in a general election, or policy on Europe."
Why should Wade have given evidence to the same committee that was at odds with what her own proprietor had told it only four months previously? It is very puzzling. I suppose she might have been poorly briefed, and was unaware of exactly what Murdoch had said, and so peddled the old canard that he does not interfere. Or was she perfectly aware, and had decided to flex her muscles by pretending that she runs the show?
Whatever the explanation, Neil's account was evidently much nearer the mark. It is also difficult to believe Wade's contention to the same committee that Rupert Murdoch "is often dismayed by the amount of celebrity coverage in my newspaper". If so, he must be the most terrible old hypocrite alive, since The Sun has thrived on celebrities from the moment he bought it. In presenting Rupert Murdoch as the Dalai Lama of the newspaper world, Rebekah is, I fear, pulling the wool.
Last week, I noted that as chief executive of The Spectator, Andrew Neil is presiding at two events marking the magazine's 180th anniversary, whereas its editor, Matthew d'Ancona, is nowhere to be seen. Some people have said that because d'Ancona wisely does not drink alcohol, he could hardly be expected to play host at a "whisky and cigar dinner" or at a "whisky tasting", as Neil is doing.
I'm not convinced. By way of a bet, I recently gave up drinking for two months, and endured the quaffing of others at parties and dinners. Moreover, there are non-drinking anniversary events at which d'Ancona could preside, and other soirées might have been invented. Why not an evening of theology, a subject at which he excels?
No, I stick to my guns. Andrew Neil is hogging the limelight at the expense of his editor.
Sleaze is not the preserve of the Conservative Party
The Guardian's role in bringing down Jonathan Aitken, right, and monstering the Major government for sleaze, is widely recognised. Less well-known is its unearthing of New Labour financial shenanigans.
The Guardian revealed Peter Mandelson's suspect mortgage, over which he was forced to resign. And, although the blogger Guido Fawkes is justifiably claiming some credit, the newspaper did for Peter Hain by running a series of pieces earlier this month about his undeclared donations. Indeed, there was a period of several days when it seemed that the story would not gain traction, but the paper persisted.
I'm not sure what this tells us. In some ways, The Guardian seems a bit off-colour, a consequence, perhaps, of the belief of its editor, Alan Rusbridger, that the future of newspapers lies on the net rather than with the printed word. Still, it remains adept at bringing down ministers who have erred financially.
A revelation? Not if you follow this column ...
It is always tedious when columnists try to score off their rivals, but an exception might be made in the case of my esteemed colleague, ~Professor Roy Campbell-Greenslade.
Last week, the Prof gave evidence to the House of Lords communications committee, mentioned elsewhere on this page. He "revealed" (his word) that there is a pact between the Telegraph and Mail groups not to write about each other. This was written up by Media Guardian, for which Roy writes, as though he had just come down from Mount Sinai.
Let me point out that as long ago as 27 June 2005, I wrote here at length about "some sort of concordat between the Telegraph and Mail groups", and returned to the subject on 20 February 2006.
Far from being the "revelation" that Roy proclaims, it is a fact well-known to every baby being wheeled down the Old Kent Road.
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