BSkyB deal: Murdoch should make undertakings to secure political independence of The Sun

It’s great for British journalism that the future of Sky News has been assured for the next ten years by yesterday’s Government deal with News Corp safeguarding both its independence and bottom line (losses are said to be up to £30m a year).

In today’s turbulent times how many other news organisations can say that?

If proof were needed about the vital importance of well-resourced news channels such as Sky  we have seen an abundance of it during the Arab revolts of the last few weeks.

Sky News has a professional, award-winning and and well-resourced foreign news operation which has not only borne witness to the historic events of the last few weeks – but been a catalyst for change. Journalists have told me that in some Arab countries they were embraced and given flowers by the locals like a liberating army.

It’s clear to see why. When the video cameras (and note-books, but cameras in particular) turn up – the violence from governments against the populace dramatically reduces while the pace of political change goes into overdrive.

But the many opponents of Rupert Murdoch have a point. He does exercise too much power in the UK and that influence will only get greater if he takes total control of BSkyB.

David Cameron had barely unpacked his bags at Number 10 in May when who should pay him a visit entering via the backdoor? Rupert Murdoch.

The suspicion has to be that what they talked about was how Cameron could re-pay Rupert for the vocal support the UK’s most popular daily newspaper had given the Tories ever since it turned on Gordon Brown the day after his Labour Party conference speech in September 2009.

The Sun is a fantastic paper created by brilliant journalists. Today’s story about the MoD paying £22 for lightbulbs that should cost 65p is just one example of the tabloid genius on display every day in its pages.

But it has to be said that no other UK national newspaper is used by its owner to exert political influence in the way that The Sun is.

Former Express editor Peter Hill told Press Gazette that Richard Desmond has never told him what to appear in the paper and he insists that the decision for his title to change allegiance from the Tories to Labour was his alone. I have no idea if Daily Mail proprietor Lord Rothermere has a political thought in his head: Metro is neutral and the editorial stance of the Mail appears to be entirely down to editor Paul Dacre.

The Mirror has always supported Labour, because that reflects the views of its core readership.

If Murdoch is serious about protecting plurality, and about dispelling the suggestion that he is a foreign media mogul corruptly pulling the strings on the British Government – he should take measures to ensure a more politically independent Sun. It wouldn’t be easy to do. It might involve the appointment of an independent ombudsman for the paper and an editorial board.

Even if it was just an undertaking to write into journalists’ contracts that when it comes to politics they are bound to report the news without fear or favour, independent of proprietorial influence, it would be at least a step in the right direction. Such a change would be good news for British democracy and would make The Sun and even better paper than it already is.

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