Sunday, 21 November 2010

"The possibility of becoming the most powerful man on the planet is irresistibly beguiling to many rich men"

Robert Gavron has some useful comments on Murdoch's bid to take full ownership of Sky News, though he is either being diplomatic in that nakedly arbitrary 'present company excepted' kind of way, or he has fallen prey to the 'I've met him and he seems qute affable' fallacy, or he's placing quite a bit of weight on the term 'comparatively' in his record as a media proprietor in the UK will stand up comparatively well.

Still, the sentiment quoted in this post's title showed a refreshingly forthright realism, in contrast to the usual approach of the commentariat which is to regard this kind of observation as lurid and jejune. Maybe it is, but if so, it would appear that reality exhibits a pronounced lurid and jejune bias.

Lords Hansard 4 Nov 2010, Column 1783

Lord Gavron:

Rupert Murdoch was described the other day by the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, as the most powerful man on the planet. I have known Rupert Murdoch for a great many years. I have found him to be straight, loyal and honourable. He is a man of his word. Although I have frequently, if not usually, disagreed with him, his record as a media proprietor in the UK will stand up comparatively well to analysis by future historians.

However, I am against his plan to acquire the rest of Sky. People have said, "He already controls Sky, so buying the rest will make no difference". We can all talk about the difference, but Rupert Murdoch is not the sort of man who would spend £7.8 billion buying shares which make no difference. Sky, as the Economist of 16 October said, is Britain's leading media company. It has almost 10 million subscribers and almost £6 billion of annual revenue-already almost double that of the BBC. Apparently, we spend more on Sky than we spend on bread. In addition to its 39 per cent of Sky, News Corporation's four newspapers already have 37 per cent of our total national newspaper circulation-a share that is as much as the next two biggest newspaper groups combined.

Next March, Rupert Murdoch will be 80. He enters what I heard rather unattractively defined last week as "the drop zone". He has said that when his health gives out he will get out of the way. He has made plans for succession. However, history tells us that when a great tycoon goes, his assets tend to change hands. Rupert Murdoch has not maximised his corporation's profits. He is sentimental about newspapers. There are media experts who think that News Corporation, valued in the market at some $38 billion, is undervalued by almost 30 per cent. So it is an attractive takeover prospect in financial terms alone. In addition, the possibility of becoming the most powerful man on the planet is irresistibly beguiling to many rich men. Quite a few of them have access to, or can raise, the means to acquire the company. We could end up with a Russian oligarch, an Arab prince, or a hedge fund billionaire. Whoever it is might be honourable and principled-or they might not be.

We have the power to prevent a media baron from extending his empire. We have tended not to use that power. I hope that this time we will. Even if we do, my major concern remains. It is very difficult to stop someone who has the money from buying a public company. It is very difficult to say, "We let Rupert Murdoch have it, but we like you less, so we are going to stop you from buying it". The potential influence of News Corporation in the United Kingdom is enormous. The damage that could be done if it fell into the wrong hands is incalculable. We should be extremely worried.


Post a Comment