Bradshaw: 'Tories have contracted media policy to NI'

Culture secretary Ben Bradshaw has accused the Conservative Party of sub-contracting its media policy to News International and condemned the company’s ‘rapacious’ proprietor, Rupert Murdoch.

Speaking in the wake of the publication of the Government’s Digital Economy Bill on Friday, Bradshaw told James Robinson at The Guardian: “We will not sell out the British people, or the British broadcasting landscape, to rapacious foreign media magnates.”

In October, The Sun announced its decision to switch allegiance from Labour to the Conservatives in a well-planned move timed to coincide with Gordon Brown’s speech to the Labour Party conference.

Bradshaw told The Guardian: “There is no doubt there’s a deal … The Tories have basically sub-contracted their media and broadcasting policy to News International. It’s brazen.”

Bradshaw said that Tory policies on the News International shopping list included easing impartiality rules for TV news and promises to scrap Ofcom and rein in media regulation. News International is the UK national newspaper publishing division of Murdoch’s News Corp empire.

Insisting that a deal has been done between the Tory leadership and News International Bradshaw said: “I know people who have been at these discussions. The proof of the pudding is in the policy.”

News Corp Europe and Asia boss James Murdoch used the MacTaggart lecture in August to call for a smaller BBC and less regulation of the media.

News Corp declined to issue a statement this morning responding to Bradshaw’s comments.

But Press Gazette understands that senior insiders believe the idea of News Corp a deal being done with the Conservatives is “ridiculous.”

They say that James Murdoch has well documented views on media policy, which he has formulated over a number of years, and that the company makes these views known to politicians as part of the normal lobbying process that all major businesses get involved with.

Friday’s Digital Economy Bill laid the legal framework for Ofcom to allocate funding to new regional news consortia which could replace regional broadcast news outside ITV once it abandons its local news output post digital TV switch-over is completed in 2012.

Bradshaw said that using the £130m of BBClicence fee cash currently allocated to helping meet the cost of digital switch-over was “still our preferred option” as a way of paying for this.

Responding to BBC criticism of these proposals to “top slice” the licence fee, Bradshaw said: “The BBC Trust very publicly and repeatedly rubbished our modest and reasonable proposals on funding the future of regional news on ITV.

“While at the same time, in the face of a daily onslaught from Rupert Murdoch, from News International and from the Conservatives, [the trust was] almost wholly silent.

“I think anyone in that position would be asking themselves: why aren’t the BBC up in arms about the Tory’s proposals to cut the licence fee halfway through a multi-year agreement, [which is] an absolutely unacceptable interference with the BBC’s independence? Even Mrs Thatcher never contemplated doing that. Yet there was not so much as a squeak from the BBC Trust.”

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