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Murdoch gets Cameron's 'it's all the Liberal Democrat's fault' excuse

By Tim Montgomerie

According to the FT the Cabinet was split about whether Rupert Murdoch's bid to own 100% of Sky should be referred to Ofcom. Tory ministers, it is said, were relaxed about the takeover. LibDem ministers wanted the bid investigated. Alex Barker is probably right in saying that the Conservatives would, in reality, have referred the bid to the competition authority. It's not just important that the implications of a foreign media company having influence in British public life are investigated, it is important that an investigation is seen to have happened.

What we are seeing played on NewsCorp is the trick that Team Cameron plays each time the Tory Right (Fraser Nelson correctly insists (£) they be called the Tory Mainstream) complains about something...

Yes, Mr Carswell, we'd really, really love to do something about repatriation of powers, but it's impossible in Coalition. I hope you understand.

Yes, Mr Binley, of course we're sympatheic about your 'no votes for prisoners' motion but the Liberal Democrats won't let us have a British Bill of Rights.

We really do sympathise, Mr Brady. We are against Ken Clarke's policy, too, but with the LibDems on his side...

Now, with crocodile tears welling up in the Cameroonian eye, it's 'so sorry, Mr Murdoch, but Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have tied my hands'.

Screen shot 2010-11-04 at 12.58.51 As much as I support the investigation into Rupert Murdoch's bid it is the BBC that is the real monopoly player. On its own corporate website, the BBC proclaims its dominance in TV and radio news. See the graphic on the right. As telling as those numbers are, they don't begin to capture the dominance of the BBC in elite news penetration (I think of Radio 4's Today programme, Newsnight and BBC News online).

The six year BBC licence freeze (equivalent to "waterboarding" according to the Corporation's World Affairs Editor) will help limit the expansionism. It will give ITV and new media start ups the opportunity to avoid their new enterprises being suffocated at birth. The great missed opportunity in media policy was the backing away from the idea of forcing the BBC to share its licence fee revenues with other broadcasters. It is not, after all, the BBC that is unique. The unique thing is the fund for public service broadcasting that the licence fee affords. Britain could have a much more diverse media and news culture if other new and existing broadcasters could access that revenue. My understanding is that it was James Murdoch who killed the idea of top-slicing. He is much happier with the idea of a BBC-Sky duopoly (with ITV a third player) than the financing of new competitors. 

Paul Waugh sees the referall of the BSkyB bid to Ofcom as another victory for Vince Cable. The Business Secretary has also diluted the economic immigration cap. I see no problem with this dilution as long as the overall commitment to reduce total immigration is delivered. On Newsnight, last night, Damian Green said the promise to reduce net immigration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands would be delivered. Good.


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