Labour puts pressure on George Osborne to reveal contact with Rupert Murdoch around time of BBC cuts announcement

George Osborne has been challenged to reveal if he met or contacted Rupert Murdoch during a period which saw BBC funding cuts. (Pictures: Reuters)

A deal was announced earlier this month to transfer the £650m-a-year bill for providing free television licences for the over 75s from the Exchequer to the BBC.

The Independent reported that sources have claimed a meeting took place between the Chancellor and News Corp boss Murdoch before the plan was revealed to BBC director general Lord Hall.

Labour has written to Osborne to ask him to fast-track the release of his meetings since May's general election.

In a letter, shadow culture secretary Chris Bryant said: "I am writing to ask for a list (with dates) of all meetings, correspondence or phone calls you have had with Rupert Murdoch since the election, along with notes of what was discussed in those conversations.

"I will also be sending a Freedom of Information Act request to the Treasury for the same information.

"I would be grateful if you would release this information in good faith and in the public interest, rather than being forced to do so by the Act.

"I would also welcome you fast-tracking the publication of your transparency data regarding meetings with media organisations.

"Due to the public interest in this matter, I will be releasing this letter to the press."

Details of ministers' meetings with external organisations and people are routinely published by the Government.

The Times and Sun, title's owned by Murdoch's News UK, have been critical of the BBC in editorials this month

In an editorial headlined “Imperial Overreach” on 7 July, The Times backed Osborne's call for the BBC not to "completely crowd-out national newspapers" online.

It said: “The chancellor is right. The BBC’s online presence needs to be reined in.”

The newspaper said that it is “obvious” to start cutting the BBC “in areas well-served by its competitors, and online news is one”.

The Sun said on 6 July: "When George Osborne talks about its 'imperial' ambition, he’s spot on.

"Whether it’s the BBC’s local news sites putting local newspapers out of business, or its main website behaving as if it should be a monopoly provider of news, the BBC uses the cushion of the licence fee to protect itself from competition that exists in the real world – and to distort the market for everyone else.

"It’s time there was a level playing field – and the BBC was brought back to reality."

Murdoch has also been personally critical of the BBC in the past. In October 2013, he tweeted: "Huge lack of balance in UK media with 8000 BBC left wing journalists far outnumbering all national print journalists."

He added: "BBC massive taxpayer funded mouthpiece for tiny circulation leftist Guardian. Meanwhile print media about to be gagged to protect toffs."

 

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