MEDIA: Why Europe may be the best way to rein in Murdoch

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.

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

goals.



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

Berlusconi.



The interesting question is whether Europe can tame Murdoch’s

ambitions.



Clive Soley, leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party, pointed out this

week that its competition treaties may succeed better than purely UK

regulation.



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

bureaucrats.



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.



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