Rupert Murdoch in Series of MeetingsWith Boris Johnson and High-Profile Ministers
The right-wing billionaire gained unprecedented access to ministers in August and September last year, reports Sam Bright
Right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch repeatedly gained special access to the UK Government in recent months, Byline Times can reveal.
Newly-released records show that News Corporation CEO Murdoch and his right-hand woman Rebekah Brooks held seven private meetings with five senior ministers over a seven-week period in August and September 2020.
This included a meeting between Murdoch and Boris Johnson on 18 September, followed just a few days later on 21 September by a meeting between News UK CEO Brooks and the Prime Minister.
Rishi Sunak was taken out to lunch by Murdoch on 26 August – perhaps benefitting from the Chancellor’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme – followed by breakfast with Brooks on 17 September.
Home Secretary Priti Patel held a meeting with Murdoch on 14 September, though perhaps thought it was politically prudent not to name him directly – instead saying she had a “private dinner” with the “Executive Chairman of News Corp”.
Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg was less bashful about his meeting with the billionaire however, listing his lunch with Murdoch on 25 September as an “informal lunch between friends”.
All of these meetings preceded a dinner bash between Murdoch and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove on 8 August. Gove, whose wife Sarah Vine is a columnist for the Daily Mail, was joined at the soiree by a guest (though their identity is not disclosed).
Gove, who used to work at the Murdoch-owned Times, has maintained an ongoing friendship with his old boss during his political career – Murdoch joining Gove for an interview he conducted with President Donald Trump for the newspaper in 2017. Gove also had a tipple with Daily Mail owner Lord Rothermere, again with a guest, a week later on 15 August.
No other media executives seem to have been afforded the same access to ministers as Murdoch and Brooks during this time period.
Meetings between Murdoch, Brooks and senior ministers
8 August – Michael Gove
26 August – Rishi Sunak
14 September – Priti Patel
17 September – Rishi Sunak
18 September – Boris Johnson
21 September – Boris Johnson
25 September – Jacob Rees-Mogg
News UK TV Versus GB News
Despite being logged as official meetings, the content of the discussions are entirely hidden from public view.
When Byline Times reported in December that Sunak had been schmoozed by Brooks earlier in the year, we filed a Freedom of Information request to obtain the minutes from the meeting, only to be told by the Treasury that no record existed.
A notorious right-wing media operator, Brooks runs News UK, which publishes the Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times newspapers. The publisher is owned by News Corp, which in turn is owned by Murdoch and his family.
Murdoch also owns Fox News, the hard-right US broadcaster that acted as a mouthpiece for Donald Trump during his time in the White House – often fanning his half-baked conspiracy theories. Indeed, Murdoch’s stranglehold on the news business stretches across the globe and is perhaps most acutely experienced in his native Australia, where Murdoch-owned newspaper titles account for more than 60% of metropolitan circulation.
This influence has also been keenly felt in the UK, with the political fortunes of a particular party or leader seen to be reliant on the stance taken by Murdoch-owned titles. Indeed, after the surprise election victory of John Major’s Conservative Party in 1992, Murdoch’s red-top-title emblazoned a headline that stuck in the British media membrane: “It’s The Sun Wot Won It”.
Consequently, when Tony Blair became leader of the Labour Party, a key facet of his “modernisation” project was to curry favour with Murdoch and his newspapers – much to the chagrin of left-wing activists.
For her part, Brooks is firmly embedded in the Murdoch machine. She was the editor of the now defunct News of the World from 2000 to 2003, editor of the Sun from 2003 to 2009, and CEO of News International from 2009 to 2011. Brooks was a prominent figure in the phone-hacking scandal, when it was revealed that a News of the World story published during her tenure allegedly involved illegal phone-hacking. She was cleared of charges in 2014.
As mentioned, the content of the meetings between Murdoch and ministers is not for public consumption. However, one could reasonably speculate that the menu of conversation may well have included News UK TV – Murdoch’s latest media venture.
As reported by the Guardian in December, the broadcasting regulator Ofcom has given approval for the platform to launch whenever it is ready – rumoured to be this Spring. It’s said that News UK TV will launch as an evening-only service, on air for around four or five hours a night. Although it reportedly will launch as a streaming-only service, News UK TV also applied for a full Ofcom broadcast licence, which means it could eventually be expanded into a traditional television channel.
News UK TV will be launching in competition with GB News – a startup broadcast venture chaired by former BBC presenter Andrew Neil and backed by a range of foreign investors. Both are seeking to exploit a perceived deficit of conservative thought on British airwaves.
I say “perceived”, because the new director general of the BBC is a former Conservative councillor, its new chairman has donated £400,000 to the party in recent years, and opaquely-funded right-wing think-tanks have a regular spot on BBC political debate programmes. Nigel Farage, for example, has been one of the most regular guests on Question Time, despite never having been elected to Parliament – rejected by the electorate on seven separate occasions.
Meanwhile, it looks like both these projects will be aided by the UK Government, with speculation mounting that Boris Johnson is set to appoint former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre as the head of Ofcom – a man who has been fervently opposed to media regulation in the past.
Perhaps Murdoch was keen to make sure that ministers were still following his playbook, given his plans afoot.
“Ministers have meetings with a range of individuals and organisations – this includes with the media,” a Cabinet Office spokesperson told Byline Times. “The Government is open and transparent in publishing ministerial meetings with senior media executives.”
what the papers don’t say
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