Rupert Murdoch accused of enjoying ‘astounding access’ to Downing Street
Murdoch executives met PM or chancellor 10 times in a year – more than any other media organisation, report reveals
Senior executives from Rupert Murdoch-owned companies met the prime minister or chancellor 10 times in a year – more than any other media organisation, according to a new analysis.
There were 10 meetings with either David Cameron or George Osborne, and later Theresa May or the chancellor, Phillip Hammond, compared with seven with named executives for the BBC and four with Evgeny Lebedev, the owner of the Evening Standard and Independent, over the 12 months to September 2016.
Over an 18-month period, News Corp executives had 20 meetings with senior government representatives. Of these, 18 were with the prime minister, chancellor or culture secretary, and of those, seven involved Murdoch himself . A further eight were with Robert Thomson, the chief executive of News Corp and most senior executive at Murdoch’s newspaper businesses.
Campaigners said it demonstrates the mogul’s “astounding” access to the UK’s political leaders. The 18-month period between April 2015 and September 2016 examined by the Media Reform Coalition and 38 Degrees includes the 2015 general election, when Murdoch’s papers backed the Conservatives, last year’s vote to leave the EU, which Murdoch has publicly welcomed, and the first three months of Theresa May’s government.
Maggie Chao, a campaigner with activist group 38 Degrees, said: “These findings show that Murdoch continues to enjoy astounding access to senior politicians. But more importantly, they throw into question the government’s – and [culture secretary] Karen Bradley’s – judgment when it comes to the UK’s most powerful media baron.
“Now it’s up to Karen Bradley to prove she’s on the public’s side – not Murdoch’s – by ensuring the Sky deal is subject to the highest levels of scrutiny.”
The bulk of the meetings with Murdoch and his senior executives were with Cameron, Osborne or other minsters under the previous government. However, since becoming prime minister, May has met Thomson twice and Murdoch once, the latter at the Wall Street Journal in New York.
She also had lunch with an unnamed News Corp executive in May 2016 when she was home secretary. Thomson also held meetings with Bradley and Hammond in September.
The full list of 20 meetings over 18 months does not include numerous meetings between ministers or officials and staff working for Murdoch’s papers, the Sun, Times and Sunday Times, including the title’s editors. However, it does count two meetings, one with 21st Century Fox and another with News Corp, where the name of the executives is not listed.
The analysis does not count a small number of meetings with the BBC where no name is given. They are not thought to have involved senior executives.
The meeting with 21st Century Fox, the TV and film company that was separated from News Corp in 2013 and is now run by Murdoch’s son James, took place in January last year with John Whittingdale, the then culture secretary.
In December, Fox announced it was making a bid to acquire the remaining 61% of UK satellite broadcaster Sky that it does not already own. Bradley, Whittingdale’s replacement, who met News Corp’s Thomson in September, will be called on to decide whether to refer the deal to regulators.
The analysis also found six meetings with Sky, all but one of which was with ministers then working for the culture department Bradley now runs. However, Bradley, who was made culture secretary last July, is not listed as having met Sky representatives during the period covered.
News Corp declined to comment.
A government spokesperson said: “Ministers meet with a range of stakeholders. We publish the details of these meetings in our transparency returns.”
Jasper Jackson, published on Sunday 5 February 2017 on www.theguardian.com