Rupert Murdoch has become bored with Britain and his now obsessed with his “new toy” the Wall Street Journal.
This was the view of Andrew Neil, former editor of the Sunday Times, who told peers this today to explain why the News International tycoon was no longer ringing the editor of The Sun every day to ask what she was publishing.
Neil, and Roy Greenslade, a former assistant editor at The Sun and the Sunday Times, told the House of Lords communication committee of the day-to-day interest Murdoch took in his newspapers.
But that prompted committee chairman Lord Fowler, a former Times journalist, to contrast the evidence with that given last week by current Sun editor Rebekah Wade.
Fowler asked Neil: “So the evidence we received from the editor of The Sun that the only thing which really concerns Mr Murdoch about the Sun’s coverage is the celebrity coverage and Big Brother is basically a load of nonsense?”
Neil replied: “I don’t recognise that description of how The Sun operates.”
Eralier he’d said: “If you want to know what Rupert Murdoch really thinks you should read the editorials in The Sun and the New York Post. There’s no major political position the Sun will take – whether it is its attitude to the Euro, to the current EU treaty or to who the paper will support in the general election; none of that can be decided without Rupert Murdoch’s major input.”
Neil admitted it was some time since he had worked for News International. But said when he was there Kelvlin MacKenzie, the then editor, would get daily telephone calls “not to determine what the headline was going to be on the front page, but to make sure that on every major issue they followed the Rupert Murdoch line.”
When Greenslade was asked about Wade’s evidence he told the committee “I can only think that either she was being economical with the truth or Mr Murdoch has mellowed a great deal.”
He said that as assistant editor he recalled MacKenzie being rebuked on the phone by Murdoch though he said his own relationship had been cordial and he had never received any instruction from the prroprietor.
He suggested that back in the Eighties, when the world was facing a clash between communism and capitalism, Murdoch was fighting an “idealogical war and used The Sun to do so”.
Now he said the concern was about maintaining the sales of The Sun and the best way of doing that “and I think Rebekah Wade’s evidence reflects that”.
Lord King commented that “how refreshing” and “how much more candid” it was to hear the views of ex-editors rather than the problems faced by current editors.
Neil told the committee that he believed Murdoch’s involvement was a lot less now than his day. “He has got a new toy which totally obsesses him, the Wall Street Journal, he doesn’t want to talk about anything else.”
He said that the early part of the 21st century also had a different political landscape for Murdoch than the 1980s. He said: “It is rather a good time I suspect to be a Murdoch editor in the UK.”
Neil, who is chief executive of the Barclay Brothers owned magazines The Spectator and The Business, said that all proprietors took an interest but he said: “As proprietors go it would be hard to imagine more hands-off proprietors than the Barclays”.