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

The record is, indeed, a disturbing one. I only hope that it will be well known to the Secretary of State and his advisers before they finally sign on the dotted line with Mr. Murdoch. The promises and the assurances that Mr. Murdoch has given, and his track record, must be treated, at the very least, with extreme caution, and must be submitted to the most rigorous scrutiny—a job that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission is well qualified to do.

Nowhere is scepticism towards Mr. Murdoch more necessary than in the area of his pledges of proprietorial non-intervention and the editorial freedom and independence of editors. Let us remind ourselves that Mr. Murdoch is the only newspaper proprietor in the free world whose journalists have come out on strike against proprietorial interference, as they did during the Australian election of 1975.

That is no isolated example. One could give numerous examples of resignations by reporters, of the Australian Press Council upholding allegations of bias by Murdoch papers in their political reporting, and of Mr. Murdoch openly pushing his commercial interests by using his newspaper powers. I read the Australian papers every day for the best part of three years when I was writing a book on Australia, and I have some understanding of the way in which Mr. Murdoch has exercised his stewardship of newspapers. It makes me profoundly unhappy.

All the signposts point to one fact, and that is that Mr. Murdoch is a strong and dominant proprietor. He has already been making changes in the editorials of The Sunday Times and The Times, even though he is not yet the owner. I believe that that situation will continue and will probably deteriorate unless the most stringent and legally binding safeguards are obtained from Mr. Murdoch by the Government. I am not sure about the legal status of the eight conditions that the Secretary of State mentioned today.