Will Murdoch's News Corp Pay for Backing Tories?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 4/23/2010 12:12:00 AM
As British viewers will know, one of the believed sources of New Labour's resilience has been its odd alliance with Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Aside from the obvious past benefit of backing a winner, New Labour has also put some distance between itself and the European project. Rupert Murdoch has always feared Brussels' encroachment on his media empire's expanse here in Britain on the grounds of competition law. Perhaps sniffing that New Labour's time was up, Murdoch famously shifted allegiances to David Cameron prior to the upcoming election.

In perceived retaliation for shifting allegiances, Labour revoked the Murdoch-invested Sky Sports' rights to air the Ashes--an important event for cricket watchers--late last year:
Labour will exact revenge over the Sun's criticism of Gordon Brown by axing Sky Sports' exclusive rights to live TV coverage of The Ashes, it emerged today. In a major blow to the Rupert Murdoch-owned channel, a government review of so-called “crown jewels” sports events will recommend tomorrow that the England-Australia cricket series must be restored to free-to-air channels.

The protected list of events includes the Olympics, football's World Cup, the FA Cup, Wimbledon and other contests considered to have “national resonance”. The Ashes series was cut from the list in recent years and this summer millions of fans missed out on live TV coverage of England's victory because they did not subscribe to the Sky channel.

The move comes within hours of the Prime Minister phoning Mr Murdoch to complain about attacks on him by the Sun, which recently switched its backing to the Tories. Downing Street insisted today that Mr Brown had “enormous personal regard for Rupert Murdoch”. But one Cabinet minister made clear that he was delighted at the decision. A senior Labour MP said: “The political context of this has definitely changed over the last three or four months.”
With the looming prospect of a hung parliament and a Labour-Liberal Democrat alliance, the Murdoch media empire is now in a quandary it didn't forecast as the Tories aren't doing well enough to win a parliamentary majority at the moment. Essentially, did they back the wrong horse? Michael Wolff writes on this possibility:
Several years ago, Rebekah Wade (now Rebekah Brooks), then the editor of Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloid, started trying to convince Murdoch that his newspapers should support David Cameron, the Conservative party candidate for prime minister.

This took some doing because Murdoch had become a good friend and pretty loyal supporter of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. What’s more, Murdoch’s wife, Wendi, is a great buddy of Brown’s wife, Sarah. But Wade/Brooks is persistent and, in Murdoch’s words, “knows how to work my family.” She convinced Murdoch’s son, James, that Cameron was the certain future. James then went to work on his father, and a reluctant Murdoch—telling everyone who would listen that Cameron was too slick by half—sourly went along.

Now, Murdoch likes winners, even more than he likes Conservatives. One of the most famous headlines of his career appeared in the Sun after the Conservative victory in Britain 1992: “It's The Sun Wot Won It.” Murdoch is still stewing over an ill-timed and inept endorsement of John McCain over Barack Obama (again, against his better judgment—Murdoch likes Obama and was convinced to back McCain by Roger Ailes and New York Post editor Col Allen).

And now, David Cameron’s not-that-long-ago-all-but-certain-looking bid for prime minister is faltering. In fact, after Murdoch’s endorsement, the Financial Times began running a graph charting Cameron’s downward movement under the headline “It’s The Sun Wot Lost it” [see here] Last week, the Lib-Dem candidate Nick Clegg—the third party candidate in the race—did so well in a television debate that he began to emerge as the logical alternative to Labor. This has caused the Murdoch papers to unleash a full-scale attack on Clegg—with hardly any pretense other than to help Cameron—now known as the “Kill Klegg” campaign.
Hit fast-forward and we now have the pretty incredible spectacle of one of the Murdoch sons accosting the editor of rival newspaper The Independent for having the temerity to suggest something logical. If The Sun had won in for the Conservatives in 1992, then the Murdoch machine acknowledges its widely-read tabloid affects voting decisions in Britain. In recent advertisements, The Independent makes a play on this by suggesting that reading it was a way to allow voters to decide for themselves and not The Sun. Unhappiness in the Murdoch camp triggered a brouhaha in which Rebekkah Brooks, chief executive of News International, and James Murdoch went to the headquarters of The Independent to cuss out its editor:
After a lifetime at the helm of the world's most powerful media organisation and in the crosshairs of the left, Rupert Murdoch has, of necessity, developed a reasonably thick skin. The Dirty Digger is how he is disrespectfully referred to by Private Eye. Spitting Image always portrayed him as a shouty figure, irredeemably uncouth. But his son James seems less ready to turn the other cheek, as it were. And this would seem to be the most plausible explanation for why Murdoch the younger, the chairman and chief executive News Corporation Europe and Asia, caused a media sensation on Wednesday by striding across the editorial floor at the Independent newspaper to berate its editor-in-chief, Simon Kelner.

In common with so many of the unpleasant episodes involving angry young men in modern London, it was a squall about reputation and respect. The newly relaunched Independent had produced a series of relatively innocuous promotional ads assuring readers: "Rupert Murdoch won't decide this election. You will."

There is no evidence that Murdoch senior has even seen the ads, but witnesses report that directly upon seeing Kelner, who was supervising the final production stages of that night's paper, Murdoch the younger began angry remonstrations. "What are you f**king playing at?" was his opening gambit.

A bewildered Kelner quickly ushered his visitors into his office, where they remained for what have been described as "frank and full discussions" for another 20 minutes. All were grim-faced as Murdoch, carrying a promotional copy of the Independent, accused the rival editor of breaking the unwritten code that proprietors do not attack each other and of besmirching his father's reputation. With his piece said and with the matter unresolved, the aggrieved media mogul left.

The episode left experienced journalists shocked. "They strode in like a scene out of Dodge City," said one. "Murdoch scanned the room, you could almost hear him saying 'Where is he?'" Another likened the arrival in the newsroom of Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International, to a mafia visit. "It was so bizarre. He came in all menace. You know the sort of thing: 'The boss has heard what you have been saying about him. He doesn't like it...'"

Earlier that day, Brooks had telephoned Kelner to raise concerns about the personalised ad. It appears to have been a relatively cordial conversation. The two have in the past socialised as part of a high-powered media set centred in Oxfordshire. Blenheim is the Murdoch family retreat and it is said that Kelner has spent time "chatting to Rupert" while staying in the area as Brooks's guest...

There are, of course, reasons why Murdoch junior might be particularly cranky right now...there is unease that despite the full blooded, war-footing support of the Sun, David Cameron's Conservatives are failing to establish the sort of lead that was expected of them. Blogging today, Murdoch's biographer Michael Woolf said jitters among the two lieutenants are inevitable because Brooks persuaded James Murdoch to throw the company's weight behind Cameron's Conservatives and the young Murdoch persuaded his father. The magnate does not like bad advice, says Woolf. "Murdoch likes winners, even more than he likes Conservatives."
Game on, then. Already, broadcast regulator Ofcom is forcing Sky's hand to offer its programmes at lower fees to other cable TV providers. In the event that Tories don't figure in the next government or government coalition, expect more bashing of News Corporation to come.