MPs slam Murdoch over Patten book

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The Independent Online
RUPERT Murdoch's brutal rejection of a book by former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten is to be raised at Westminster, following a revolt by authors over the media tycoon's "censorship".

Roger Stott MP, a senior Labour member of the Culture Select Committee, said yesterday: "I am deeply concerned by these events and I will be taking the matter up with my colleagues on the committee."

Questions are certain to be raised in the Commons about the decision of publishers HarperCollins - owned by the Murdoch media group - to drop the book, East and West: The Last Governor of Hong Kong, for fear of upsetting the Chinese authorities.

MPs on the Culture Committee contacted by the IoS were unanimous in their criticism of Murdoch's move. John Maxton, Labour MP for Glasgow Cathcart, said: "The company should be allowed to publish the books it wants. I am sure it would not affect his business interests. I am certain the Chinese government couldn't care less. This is a sign of Murdoch's paranoia, rather than Chinese paranoia."

A Tory member of the committee, Michael Fabricant, MP for Mid Staffordshire, said the decision was "regrettable". It was a commercial decision by Mr Murdoch, "but he may well come to the conclusion that this was a bad commercial decision, and the losses resulting from the flight of authors from his publishing arm are greater than anything that might have been inflicted by the Chinese government".

Mr Murdoch has denied censoring Mr Patten's memoirs, but privately he made clear his view to HarperCollins management that the book had "negative aspects" and should be dropped from the publisher's lists.

His action prompted Stuart Proffitt, the company's leading editor, to resign in protest. He is suing for constructive dismissal and Mr Patten, who has signed a new publishing contract with Macmillan, is suing the Murdoch firm for breach of contract.

A number of HarperCollins top authors - including Booker prize-winner Penelope Fitzgerald - are very critical of the Murdoch demarche. Some are threatening to quit and follow Mr Proffitt.

Meanwhile, The Mail on Sunday, which last week reported that the publishers had dropped Mr Patten's book because it was not up to scratch, has apologised to him, saying it had "rashly reported" HarperCollins' version of events and Mr Murdoch "may live to regret" his action.

The newspaper would not comment on reports that it has agreed to pay Mr Patten substantial damages.

Focus, page 19; section 2, page 5

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