Government refuses to reveal details of Murdoch meetings

By David Rose

An
attempt to uncover how much influence Rupert Murdoch has over Tony
Blair has failed, because the Government has refused to reveal how many
meetings have taken place, or what was discussed.

Lord McNally, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords,
challenged the Government to list the number of times Murdoch and other
senior executives of News International had met with the Prime Minister
and Chancellor over the past year.

His plea came after sports
minister Richard Caborn gave MPs an undertaking that he would examine
whether the minutes of a meeting between James Murdoch and Culture
Secretary Tessa Jowell could be divulged.

Murdoch junior, chief
executive of BSkyB, met with Ms Jowell just a month before the England
and Wales Cricket Board awarded the broadcaster a contract to cover
live Test cricket.

The deal sparked a row because, apart from
highlights shown on channel Five in the evening, there will be no
coverage of Test cricket on terrestrial television for the next two
years.

When Caborn gave evidence to the Commons Media Committee,
he was asked whether James Murdoch had sought an assurance during the
meeting with Jowell that “the Government would not raise any objection
to the potential loss of cricket from free-to-air”.

“I was not there so I do not know,”

Caborn
told the committee. But he agreed to consider making the minutes
available after Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Saunders said the committee
had a right to know.

The Government’s deputy chief whip in the
Lords, Lord Davies, made clear the request would be rejected when he
told Lord McNally that details of discussions between No 10 and Rupert
Murdoch, or anyone else from Sky, would not be made divulged.

“It
would be as surprising for the Government not to talk at times with
broadcasters as for them not to talk to newspaper editors, owners, or
even to one person who is both those things,”

Lord Davies said during exchanges in the Lords.

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