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Times Newspapers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:43 pm on 27th January 1981.

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Photo of Mr Jonathan Aitken Mr Jonathan Aitken , Thanet East 4:43 pm, 27th January 1981

I shall come to that point, if I may, in the course of my remarks.

Having expressed my initial sorrow, I now go to the background, to the reasons why there is such widespread anxiety about the takeover that is about to take place. In particular, we have to consider carefully how strong and how reliable are the safeguards and conditions to which Mr. Murdoch has agreed in his discussion with the Thomson Organisation and to which he may have to agree in his discussions with the Secretary of State and his advisers.

The plain fact is that Mr. Murdoch has strewn assurances and safeguards on newspaper and television ownership like confetti, all round the world, and the more one examines those assurances the more one has to say that in far too many instances they have proved to be worthless.

When Mr. Murdoch first entered upon the newspaper scene in this country, he gave an assurance to Sir William Carr that Sir William would be able to remain as chairman of the News of the World. That assurance was not kept, and Bill Carr—some of us knew him well—felt a deep sense of grievance to the end of his days.

In Australia, Mr. Murdoch's more recent takeover of channel 10 in Sydney bore a close resemblance to his present takeover of The Times. It began with Mr. Murdoch telling the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal that unless his application for licence was granted the station would probably have to close. Then, when appearing before the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, he gave solemn assurances that he would not be introducing any changes into the television station. According to the transcript, he said: It would be madness to contemplate any changes at all… I wish to give an assurance to the tribunal that no change is contemplated at all. Later in the same evidence, Mr. Murdoch denied rumours that he was intending at some later date to acquire television interests in Melbourne. Yet within weeks of these assurances several of the top executives of channel 10 had been removed, including the chairman, the general manager and the finance director, and replaced by News Limited executives. Within a matter of months, Mr. Murdoch was bidding for ATV channel 10, a Melbourne television station, again in open defiance of those assurances.

It is perhaps noteworthy that Mr. Murdoch's application for the Melbourne station was eventually rejected by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, on the ground that further dominance by this group"— that is, Mr. Murdoch's group— would not be in the public interest". Mr. Murdoch was criticised by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal for giving directly contradictory evidence".