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Pay attention to Murdoch's masterplan

01 October 2010

There was a brief moment in August when it appeared that Mark Thompson had actually managed to unsettle Rupert Murdoch. Thommo, it seemed, had said the unsayable in his MacTaggart, and would begin to rally support around the ‘anyone but Murdoch’ crusade. And then the moment, like all such moments, passed.

Now we mustn't overstate this. This kind of anti-Murdoch sentiment comes and goes – usually around a big acquisition – and then ebbs away as regulators submit and the relentless growth continues. History shows that we generally discover that a world where Murdoch rules the (air) waves isn't quite as bad as we feared and, well, the customer service is a bit better.

But right now there are massing forces. The BBC, the Guardian (who I work for) and the New York Times are the only three news organisations investigating the phone hacking stories out of News International which (it is not overstating to say) go right to the heart of government.

Two weeks after Thompson’s blast against Sky, Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust, announced he is not seeking a second term, we suspect, because he has been led to understand he would not be appointed. This as the government ratchets up the pressure on the BBC to cutback.

For decades, Sky, Murdoch and News International, from Kelvin MacKenzie through Nick Pollard, have made hay with the suggestion that they are the scrappy anti-establishment types. The Millwall code got them a long way and rightly cast the TV and Print industries as slow, stuffy and patrician.

But as Murdoch presumably calls in his favours, and government and regulators appear once more to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear, something does seem to have changed. When the FT runs a leader demanding that Murdoch’s bid to fully own BSkyB be blocked, when a respected industry consultant writes to Vince Cable suggesting we are on the verge of a “Berlusconi moment” and when the non-Murdoch press is full of stories of criminal activity, then something has gone seriously awry with the master plan. It’s time to pay attention.

Janine Gibson is editor of

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