Saturday, 17 March 2012

Murdoch's meeting with Thatcher exposes his modus operandi | Media |

Murdoch's meeting with Thatcher exposes his modus operandi

Rupert Murdoch has been caught out by yet another paper trail. The secret 1981 meeting between him and Margaret Thatcher was exposed because two documents were preserved - the note of the meeting at Chequers and Murdoch's thank you letter.

Similarly, his company's recent problems stem from the existence of Glenn Mulcaire's extensive documentation of his phone hacking activities on behalf of the News of the World.

And it is the Wapping email archive - a virtual paper trail, if you like - that has exposed yet more extensive misbehaviour within Murdoch's News International outfit.

In the end, as Murdoch may well reflect on re-reading his letter to Thatcher and Bernard Ingham's sober note of their meeting, the truth will out.

Mind you, it has taken 30 years for us to discover that truth. At last we know what many people - especially the then Sunday Times editor, Harold Evans - suspected at the time: Thatcher and Murdoch did talk about his bid to acquire The Times and Sunday Times.

The meeting amounted, at the very least, to a lobbying exercise by Murdoch. Reading between the lines it is possible to see it as a subtle plea for assistance.

He is making it clear that he is the perfect man to acquire the newspapers. He is the man to deal with the unions.

Without even needing to say it explicitly, Thatcher also understands what Murdoch's ownership can do for her.

Here, for the first time, is Murdoch's modus operandi laid bare. Throughout his long career, he has used political "friendship" to secure commercial advantage.

And then, having gained the commercial advantage, he repays political favours. And so the dialectical dance has gone on whereever he has operated - in Britain, the US and Australia. Politics aids his business and his business aids politics.

There was never any doubt that Murdoch's bid for The Times and Sunday Times should have gone to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission because of his ownership of The Sun and the News of the World.

It was falsely claimed at the time that the MMC referral was unnecessary because The Times and Sunday Times lost money (as Murdoch told Thatcher at their meeting).

Later, Evans was to discover the truth in papers placed in the Commons library. The papers were not running at a loss after all. It was galling for Evans, who had led a management buy-out team that bid for the Sunday Times. His bid, equal in cash terms to Murdoch's, was never given the time of day.

Ever after, there was a public denial of the Sunday Times's pre-takeover profitability, just as there were "official" denials from both Thatcher and Murdoch that there had been any meeting between them prior to Murdoch making his bid.

The official Times history could not be clearer on this point. It states that there was "no communication whatsoever during the period in which The Times bid and referral was up for discussion".

The footnote in the book, by Graham Stewart, is clear about the source: an interview with Murdoch in August 2003.

Murdoch could have forgotten, of course. Amnesia has been something of a News International disease in the past year.

However, I rather think today, on reflection, he might well be saying to himself: this is the second most humble day of my life.