Monopolist with a grip on the globe

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The Independent Online
WRITING OF Murdoch, the monopolist, Australia's National Dictionary of Biography claimed: "Whatever the prime motive - profit, power, or pulpiteering - Murdoch had forged the first national media chain."

That was in 1935, and the subject was the late Sir Keith Murdoch, Rupert's father. Murdoch senior was the first Australian newspaper publisher to enter broadcasting. Murdoch junior learnt astutely at his father's knee.

Like his late father, he has a famously eclectic interest in communications. His newspaper empire embraces The Australian, the New York Post and, over here, The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and the News Of The World. He controls HarperCollins. He controls Twentieth Century Fox. He controls BSkyB. He controls Star TV in Asia. And beneath Star's satellites are three billion people.

The fruits of such a concentration of media interests are more apparent now than ever. As the digital TV rivals promote their respective wares, Mr Murdoch is present even in the publicity for his competitors. The terrestrial and cable digital providers have as their biggest selling points sport and movie packages, both courtesy of Sky.

Mr Murdoch's monopolistic ambitions have not been without consumer rewards. Premier league football, though expensive to view, is available live on a weekly and sometimes thrice weekly basis.

We haven't yet seen - though we surely will - a Twentieth Century Fox production adapted from a HarperCollins book that was serialised in The Times, premiered on Sky Box Office with its starlet's drug habit later exposed in the News of the World.

But the more serious dangers of monopoly have been evident. Last year, Mr Murdoch wanted to ditch Chris Patten's Hong Kong memoir from the HarperCollins list as it criticised the Chinese, and he needed to extend his TV empire into the lucrative Chinese market. He expected his staff to lie for him, to claim that the book was "substandard". To HarperCollins's shame, the key executives involved agreed to do so.

The book's editor, Stuart Proffitt, refused, stood by his integrity and paid with his job.

Before that, Mr Murdoch had offered the then Republican Senate leader Newt Gingrich $4.5m (pounds 2.8m) for a complete non-book: a thinly disguised inducement to acquiesce to Mr Murdoch's lobbying interests.

He parted company with Andrew Neil, former editor of The Sunday Times, after Mr Neil moved to a high-profile TV series in America that ultimately was never screened.

He cut the BBC's World Service channel from his Star TV network as a way of appeas- ing the Peking regime, which was less than impres- sed by Kate Adie's reports of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

He put pressure on the once-respectable publisher Basic Books in New York, another Murdoch acquisition, to release a cringingly propagandistic biography of Deng Xiaoping, amid lavish publicity. Its author? Deng Ron, the despot's daughter.

The effectiveness of Murdoch the monopolist is best summarised by his unauthorised biographer William Shawcross.

He says: "A handful of companies now dominate the market in the most powerful and lucrative commodity in the world: information. Among these companies, only News Corporation stretches right around the earth and was built and controlled by one man."