Files reveal UK’s love-hate relationship with media baron Rupert Murdoch
The files released by National Archives show that John Major, who was prime minister between 1992 and 1997, was uneasy with the Murdoch press, particularly during 1993, when there were several stories and cartoons critical of him.Updated: Dec 28, 2018 22:49 IST
The Conservative party’s ‘need’ for support during the 1997 elections from media baron Rupert Murdoch’s UK-based titles has been revealed in classified files released on Friday, reiterating the influence they wield in British politics.
The British political establishment has had a love-hate relationship with Murdoch since his takeover of The Times in 1981. His stable of newspapers has extended support to either Conservative or Labour during general elections.
The files released by National Archives show that John Major, who was prime minister between 1992 and 1997, was uneasy with the Murdoch press, particularly during 1993, when there were several stories and cartoons critical of him.
Major was also uneasy about his ministers attending a dinner organised by Murdoch on September 1, 1993, but Michael Howard, who was home secretary, wrote to Major, setting out reasons why it would not be practicable to “cry off” the event.
Howard wrote to Major: “More fundamentally, though, this does raise the question of what tactics we should adopt towards the Murdoch press. I hope I hardly need say that I fully share your dismay at their behaviour since the last elections”.
“But we shall need them at the next elections. And given the unpalatable (to them) nature of some of the things we are likely to be doing quite soon…the case for some harmless, costless gesture such as attending the dinner seems to be quite strong”.
Major’s private secretary, Roderic Lyne, had suggested that Howard “might catch a diplomatic chill” to avoid the dinner, but regretted in a note to the prime minister that the advice was not taken, adding some controversies of the Murdoch empire.
“Murdoch’s campaign to drive the other tabloids down, and The Independent out of business, by cutting the cover price of The Sun and The Times to sub-economic levels (funded by huge profits of his empire by satellite television etc) has become very controversial”, Lyne wrote.
In a note to Major by press secretary Gus O’Donnell before a meeting with Murdoch, he was told to deliver this message: “Your papers have made matters worse. They have ceased to make rational criticisms of policy. They are now simply anti everything and anti me in particular”.
“This is bad for economic confidence and hence, bad for business. Longer term political ramifications difficult to assess. Conservative MPs now see no reason to be helpful to the media”, adding that Murdoch should be told of pressure growing over cross-ownership, VAT on newspapers and privacy rules”.
“I am not keen to move on any of these areas but MPs from all parties becoming increasingly attracted to them”, Major was advised to say to Murdoch.
The Murdoch empire in the UK made news in 2014 due to the phone-hacking scandal at ‘News of the World’, one of its titles that was closed down. The row led to the Leveson Inquiry in the culture of practices of the British press, politics and the police, and the creation of a new press complaints body.
First Published: Dec 28, 2018 22:19 IST