Turner warns of Murdoch's power in Britain
Thursday 06 November 1997
Causing a scene would normally get you swiftly if courteously ejected from the Reform Club. But, no one shuffled uncomfortably in their venerable armchair or choked on their cigar when a real verbal spat erupted yesterday in that palace of privilege in Pall Mall. This was mainly because the figure at the centre of it, Ted Turner, is a man who plainly puts his money where his mouth is - not to mention his celebrated $1bn donation to the United Nations.
Besides, it wasn't the founder of CNN who started it. It was William Shawcross, who wrote a soft biography of Rupert Murdoch a few years back and, apparently, takes grave exception to the Australian-American mogul being demonised by Ted Turner.
"Is it appropriate for a businessman like you to compare a competitor with Adolf Hitler?" asked Mr Shawcross, with the righteous indignation which comes naturally to the English elite.
"I don't always use that word," Mr Turner retorted with a large mischievous smile. "Yesterday I compared him to the former leader of Germany's Third Reich!"
"That's a stupid and cheap shot," the author hit back.
But, Mr Turner wasn't for backtracking. In fact, he was just getting started to dig his rhetorical knife into the Dirty Digger. "[Murdoch] is a disgrace to journalism who tries to buy politicians with book deals," Mr Turner drawled into the microphone.
"I don't respect him and I don't like him. What's happened to Britain is a real tragedy. People now know he's not a yummy yum from the Australian outback. He's a serious threat and came damn close to having this country under his thumb.
"I'm doing my best to block him around the world. I know where his pressure points, especially the Sun, where the bare breasts are. He wants to stop doing it but he can't."
Actually, it wasn't William Shawcross who started the spat. It was one of Mr Turner's own employees, CNN's chief correspondent Christiane Amanpour, who had kicked off the post-lunch question-and- answer session.
Ms Amanpour asked her boss what he thought about the BBC entering the 24-hour television news business, which CNN pioneered from its base in Atlanta, Georgia. He responded: "I'm quite happy the BBC is starting a local round-the-clock newscast for Britain, which is aimed directly at Sky News. Anything that reduces the power in this country of Rupert Murdoch is good for England."
Mr Turner was also quizzed about his decision to pledge a personal donation of $1bn to the UN. He announced yesterday that the money would be allocated by whoever he appoints to head a special foundation which he is setting up.
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