Letter: Labour must beware Murdoch

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Sir: It does not make pleasant reading for democrats to follow Michael Leapman's informed article "Supping with the Devil" (7 January) or to see the photograph of Tony Blair in cosy contact with Rupert Murdoch. But it was time that such a feature articlewas published.

Admittedly the Times, Sunday Times and the Sun have softened their attack on the Opposition.It will not last. Six months before the next election, the Murdoch newspapers will change their tune and revert to their previous vicious campaigns. Of course, itwould be lovely if the media moguls maintained their critical stance towards the Conservative Government, but that is too much to hope for.

Murdoch, the Berlusconi of Britain, is, as usual, pursuing his business interests. These include the maintenance of his 50 per cent shareholding in Sky TV and thus his control of satellite TV in Britain, while still continuing his vast newspaper property. He fears that a Labour government might take steps to end the cross-ownership of TV and newspapers.

The Labour Party has long held that it is far too dangerous to leave media ownership concentrated in so few hands. With 4 million buyers and 10 million readers of the Sun every day, in addition to other huge Murdoch audiences, the die are too heavily loaded against ordinary people and against democracy itself.

The Labour Party's Press and Publicity Committee, which I chaired, produced a policy in the 1970s on the issue. It is to be welcomed that this Wednesday, Chris Mullin, MP, will produce a progressive Bill in the Commons along similar lines. It is almost certain, however, that the present government will not allow it to proceed. David Mellor, the minister then responsible, told me when I introduced a measure to provide the right of reply to distortion and inaccuracy in the media, that his colleagues wouldnever support even this limited measure.

The suggestion behind Mr Blair's three meetings with Murdoch is that some sort of deal is being considered (for example, Murdoch papers would refrain from attacking Labour, in exchange for the party excluding from its election programme any steps to freereaders from their present media domination by diversifying the biggest groups). Australia shows the folly of such an attempt.

There are signs that the Labour leadership may be considering weakening its present media policy. That would be a costly mistake and should be rectified without delay.

Yours faithfully, FRANK ALLAUN Manchester 7 January The writer was Labour MP for Salford East, 1955-83.