Lord Mandelson warned last night that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation wanted to import Fox News-style journalism to Britain and to tighten its “iron grip” on the pay TV market.
In one of his fiercest attacks on News Corp since Murdoch’s Sun newspaper dropped its backing for Labour the day after Gordon Brown delivered his party conference speech, Mandelson claimed the media giant wanted to “erode the commitment to impartiality” that currently existed in broadcast news.
James Murdoch, News Corp chief executive for Europe and Asia, has been consistently critical of the powers of the media regulator and its attempts to rein-in parts of the pay TV market.
The business secretary told the Parliament that many pay TV customers believed they already pay too much for services like Sky TV and called for cross-party support to reject News Corp’s “worldview” – that profit alone should drive the news business – and instead support a proposed extension of Ofcom’s powers under the Digital Economy Bill.
During a speech in July, David Cameron pledged to dismantle Ofcom and other quangos. Mandelson yesterday urged the Conservatives to dismantle its ties to New Corporation and abandon this policy.
He said: “There are some in the commercial sector who believe that the future of British media would be served by cutting back the role of the media regulator.
“They take this view because they want to commandeer more space and income for themselves and because they want to maintain their iron-grip on pay-TV, a market in which many viewers feel they are paying more than they should for their music and sport.
‘They also want to erode the commitment to impartiality. In other words, to fill British airwaves with more Fox-style news.
“They believe that profit alone should drive the gathering and circulation of news rather than allowing a role for what they call ‘state-sponsored journalism’.
“The Government and this Bill reject this worldview, and I hope that the whole House, including the Conservatives, will make clear today that they think likewise, and that they will support Ofcom – including its efforts to ensure consumers are getting a fair deal in the pay-TV market.”
In a speech to regional newspaper lobby correspondents earlier this week, Mandelson reiterated the Government’s support for top-slicing £130m from the BBC licence fee to fund independent regional news consortia outside the corporation.
Yesterday, he outlined how extended powers for Ofcom would support “independently-funded” news consortia to provide regional and local news services.
The Bill required Ofcom “to balance its primary focus on consumers and competition with a new additional focus on ensuring investment in the long term strength of Britain’s communication infrastructure.
“It also requires Ofcom to take a new forward role in ensuring that the British media market produces the right mix of impartial national and local news. This expanded role is critical and must be well defined and defended.
“And it requires Ofcom to take a new role in shaping our response to online copyright infringement.”