Stephen Glover: Jeremy Hunt is the fall guy in this deal

Media Studies: The interesting question is whether the decision to let Mr Murdoch have his way will affect the Prime Minister's relations with the rest of the Press

Monday 07 March 2011 01:00
Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt

The Culture and Media Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is an ambitious fellow. He has been spoken of, perhaps somewhat fantastically, as a future Tory leader. Why would such a man risk the ire of most newspapers, not least the non-Murdoch right-wing Press, by agreeing last week to Rupert Murdoch's bid to acquire the whole of BSkyB without a referral to the Competition Commission?

Mr Hunt is admittedly a great admirer of Mr Murdoch's, believing he has "done more to create variety and choice in British TV than any other single person". But if the Culture Secretary put his admiration for the media mogul before his own political future – which he has surely undermined by so antagonising the Press – he is a very unusual sort of politician. There was an open door marked "Competition Commission Referral" through which he could have strolled with ease. He did not take it.

There is only one explanation I can think of. No 10 told him what to do. I am sure David Cameron believes he has a debt to pay to Rupert Murdoch for ditching Labour and putting his newspapers at the service of the Tory cause with all the unquestioning passion they once showed for New Labour. Mr Cameron's sometimes undignified but always enthusiastic courting of Mr Murdoch, the final consummation, and the continuing intimate relationship with the media tycoon and his acolytes have pointed to one outcome.

If this analysis is correct, Mr Hunt is something of sacrificial lamb. I don't doubt that, having been denied the Competition Commission route, he has negotiated an elegant solution over the future of Sky News, whose continuing editorial independence he appears to have secured. But none of the leaders in last Friday's newspapers, the day after the announcement, gave him any credit.

Mr Hunt is the fall guy, but the person who shoved him is Mr Cameron. The interesting question is whether the decision to let Mr Murdoch have his way will affect the Prime Minister's relations with the rest of the Press. I am not thinking of opponents of the deal such as The Guardian, The Independent or the BBC (about which, incidentally, Mr Cameron is privately critical over what is seen as its deliberate and systematic debunking of the programme of cuts). These organisations are already not particularly friendly, so the Prime Minister may not worry if he has upset them.

It is the effect on the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph that most interests me. Even before Mr Hunt unveiled his deal, neither of these traditionally Tory titles was exactly gung-ho for Mr Cameron. On Friday they both ran lengthy editorials denouncing the agreement. I don't suggest they will be so embittered that they will now turn their guns on Mr Cameron, but they are not going to like him any more as a result of what has happened.

I happen to believe the Mail and Telegraph exaggerate the likely ill-effects of this deal. Rupert Murdoch, who is 80 this week, is not the force he was and won't live for ever. His senior British management is weaker and more accident-prone than it has ever been, as the News of the World phone-hacking saga attests. While the Times is struggling to make online "paywalls" work, the free Mail Online is one of the most popular newspaper websites in the world, and could become seriously profitable.

In fact, I don't think that any of these organisations, including the BBC, has much to fear from Mr Murdoch's acquisition of the 61 per cent of BSkyB he doesn't already own, though that is not how they see it. The chief casualty may turn out to be David Cameron, who has favoured the Murdoch newspapers over the rest of the right-wing Press. He has put the media mogul's interests before what, rightly or wrongly, the Mail and Telegraph believe are their interests. That won't be forgotten, and Jeremy Hunt alone will not take the rap.

Why i should be celebrated

It is always difficult passing judgement on a publication for which one writes, particularly if one has something nice to say. But I can no longer avoid the subject of i, a boiled-down version of The Independent launched last October at the price of 20 pence.

My first reaction was favourable, though my enthusiasm began to sag as the new title's sales, not helped by the appalling weather in December, fell away, reportedly touching 60,000 or 70,000 at the worst. Some said that, in a world where freesheets such as Metro can be got for nothing, there weren't enough people prepared to pay 20p for i.

Then in January there began a multi-million pound, television-led ad campaign, featuring Jemima Khan, among others. The effect was electric. According to Media Guardian, the title is likely to record daily sales of around 170,000 for February, and the ending of the ad campaign has so far not had a deleterious effect.

Such phenomenal growth powered by an ad campaign suggests that i has a market among young readers. It has also barely taken any sales away from The Independent. It may not be the paper for me, but it is surely a cause for celebration that in the age of the internet a new paid-for newspaper can attract young readers.

How will Mariella fare next time?

Mariella Frostrup may be forgiven for feeling confused. On 21 February, Mail Online carried a picture of the attractive 48-year-old television presenter looking like a "bag lady" aged about 103. "Matronly" and "Plain Jane" were among the epithets.

Yesterday, Mariella Frostrup was featured on the front of the Mail on Sunday's You magazine looking ravishing and 25 (The Mail on Sunday is part of Mail Online). The inside piece described the bag lady of two weeks ago as "irreverent, sexy and enjoying the best decade of her life."

You knock 'em down, you pick 'em up, and then I suppose you knock 'em down again.

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