Stephen Glover: Attack Google too, if you value privacy

Media Studies: Google may provide an invaluable service but it actually produces nothing much of value

Monday 10 January 2011 01:00 GMT

Few people can have greater respect for the journalist Henry Porter than I do. Many years ago we worked happily together on the same newspaper. At Anthony Howard's funeral last week my heart lifted when I saw Henry sitting a few rows behind me.

An article by him in yesterday's Observer presents the up-to-date, fashionable case against Rupert Murdoch's acquisition of the whole of BSkyB, and will have found favour across the spectrum from the editor of The Guardian to the director general of the BBC to the editor of the Daily Mail, all of whom oppose the deal.

Indeed, the article has the authority of an urtext, Henry being a close and old friend of Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian. The two of them have – or at any rate used to have – weekend cottages in the charming Cotswold village of Blockley. I imagine them sitting in the snug bar of Blockley's most fetching pub, drinking half pints of Old Speckled Hen or some such brew, and planning the next stage of their campaign to dethrone Rupert Murdoch.

It has to be said that this is going very well. Who is now not part of it? A new argument, deployed in a Guardian editorial last week as well as in Henry's piece yesterday, is that the News of the World phone hacking affair renders Mr Murdoch unfit to own the whole of BSkyB. Henry even raises the possibility that the media tycoon "knew about the extent of the scandal all along". Picture Rupert Murdoch in his New York office circa 2005. "Get me Clive Goodman, the News of the World royal reporter, pronto. I need to know how the hacking is going."

The case against Murdoch, so brilliantly adumbrated by Henry and others is: (1) The mogul does not respect the privacy of celebrities, eg the phone hacking affair. (I was amused to see that Max Mosley, pictured by the News of the World indulging in a violent orgy, has joined the cause.) (2) Murdoch is too close to David Cameron. (3) Oh, and while we are about it, he doesn't pay personal tax in the United Kingdom.

No doubt it is a failing in me but I don't think I shall be joining Alan and Henry and Max and the others on the barricades. God knows, I am no great fan of Mr Murdoch's, and have often criticised him in the past, but I can't see the virtue of making him Public Enemy Number One. More specifically, I still don't grasp – though doubtless I am being very dim – how it will make much difference to the British public whether Mr Murdoch controls and runs BSkyB, as he does at present, or whether he controls, runs and owns the whole of it, as he hopes to do.

Mr Murdoch is being opposed by his commercial rivals and by those who, often for reasons that are not contemptible, fear the extent of his political influence. But are they thinking straight? As Luke Johnson, the former chairman of Channel 4, suggested in an article in yesterday's Mail on Sunday, there is a more powerful organisation that may pose a far greater threat than Rupert Murdoch, and yet it is barely criticised by right-thinking people. Its name is Google.

Compare it on the same three counts with the wicked media mogul. (1) Google's Street View carries pictures of every street in Britain. If you use Google services such as its search engine and Gmail, Google will store data derived from your use for years. Gmail's software even reads your private emails! Murdoch threatens the privacy of celebrities, Google of ordinary individuals. (2) Like Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, Google has close relations with the Tories. Mr Cameron's shadowy guru Steve Hilton is married to Rachel Whetstone, Google's vice-president of public policy and communications. (3) According to Business Week, Google has paid a derisory 2.4 per cent corporation tax on overseas earnings of £7.2bn since 2007.

Eric Schmidt, Google's chairman and CEO, has spoken about privacy in a way that would cause uproar if it came from Rupert Murdoch or one of his tabloid editors: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." Pretty sinister, no? Providing further proof of his closeness to the Government, Mr Schmidt co-wrote an article with the Chancellor, George Osborne, in The Daily Telegraph on3 November. I can't imagine a member of the Government doing a piece with Rupert Murdoch.

I know which organisation worries me more. I should say in his defence that my old friend Henry Porter has attacked Google in the past, describing it as "an amoral menace". I am sure he would agree with me that, for all his sins, Mr Murdoch publishes some very good newspapers and produces some good programming. Google may provide an invaluable service but it actually produces nothing much of value while taking billions of pounds of advertising from newspapers and television.

Go for Mr Murdoch by all means, but the media classes should not forget the greater danger. I am put in mind of a not very thoughtful farmer who uses a twelve-bore to try to kill squirrels that nibble his acorns while ignoring the fox given the free run of his chicken coop.

Do you really want bit parts David?

Modern politicians who seek to lead their parties may throw in the towel if defeated. Michael Portillo is a good example. Now David Miliband, pipped for the Labour Party leadership by his brother, Ed, is said to be considering a role in television, and has approached the BBC with what it describes as "programme ideas".

Oh dear. Why are these people so feeble? One or two setbacks (one in David Miliband's case; two in Michael Portillo's) and they expect to be rescued by the BBC. They should realise they will get no more than bit parts – look at Mr Portillo, reduced to a vaudeville role on Andrew Neil's late-night show.

Whatever you think about Mr Miliband, he is a top-flight politician. Why not stay doing what you do best?

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