Rupert Murdoch the Europhile? Well, a makeover of sorts is
certainly going on. Next Monday the chairman and CEO of News Corp will
be publicly displaying his new image, as a good European, on Tony
Blair’s side before hundreds of key players.
Murdoch is the key speaker at a three-day European Audiovisual
conference in Birmingham, organised to help determine future digital
regulation - during Britain’s current presidency of the EU. A number of
Hollywood moguls were sounded out for the slot. But it was Rupert who
responded swiftly, lifting the profile of the event sky high - Cabinet
ministers Robin Cook and Chris Smith and EC President Jacques Santer are
also attending. In the past two weeks the organisers suddenly understood
why. Murdoch, is doing himself a good turn, while demonstrating the new
pragmatic mood afoot at News Corp where a shift is taking place.
In some ways the political outcry over Blair’s phone call to Romano
Prodi, the Italian Prime Minister about Murdoch’s bid to buy Silvio
Berlusconi’s Mediaset TV company provides part of the explanation.
Whether Blair needed to aid Murdoch by obtaining such hot information is
a matter of debate.
But it makes it easier for Blair to negotiate Britain’s entry into full
monetary union if Murdoch is converted into a less hostile critic
because his business interests are at stake.
While Murdoch is a supreme dealmaker he also has consistent global
Through BSkyB he has until now tried but failed to expand onto the
Continent, certainly since an early 1990s co-operation deal with Canal
+, Bertelsman and Nethold withered away. While China is important,
Europe is in many ways a much riper plum.
Repeated attempts to join the German pay-TV market, through a series of
deals with the Kirch Group and Bertelsman collapsed more than a year
ago. This is the second time he has approached Mediaset’s
The interesting question is whether Europe can tame Murdoch’s
Clive Soley, leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party, pointed out this
week that its competition treaties may succeed better than purely UK
British Interactive Broadcasting, the digital TV home banking and
on-line service BSkyB plans with BT as a way of subsidising digital
satellite service decoders has yet to gain EC approval. And it was the
EC competition directorate which braced the ITC to insist BSkyB drop out
of the British Digital Broadcasting consortium last year.
Murdoch wants to expand into Europe, and reassure the EC
He needs the UK Government to champion him. And he wants its protection
from what he would view as excessive regulation, such as imposed
European programme production quotas. It’s not a pretty sight to see
Blair helping out. It may end in tears, but it has a logic.