It was a heartwarming tale of our democracy in action. A
cross-party group of peers from unelected House of Lords led a 121 to 93
drubbing for the Government on an amendment to the Competition Bill to
ban predatory pricing by Rupert Murdoch’s title the Times - a snip at 20
pence on a Saturday.
’Foul’ cried the peers, led by Lord McNally: the prices are just
designed to take out competitors such as the ailing Independent and the
Their amendment would prohibit the sale of papers below the cost of
Murdoch was said to be spending pounds 49 million a year from his TV
empire to keep prices down.
Not so, replied News International: the Times is self-financing and, in
any event, falls well below the 40 per cent market share considered the
minimum needed for market dominance.
Both the unelected Industry minister Lord Simon and the unelected ’Prime
Minister’s Official Spokesman’ Alistair Campbell have since made it
clear that the elected House of Commons will throw out the amendment
Unelected officials insisted that predatory pricing by newspapers was
covered by the bill, which bars unfair purchase or selling prices by
companies with a dominant position.
Tony Blair owes much to the backing of Murdoch titles such as the
By forcing the Government into the open on this issue, the rebel Lords
have probably hardened Labour’s lack of appetite for reviving its emnity
with the Murdoch empire. The tactics deployed by News International and
Lawson Lucas Mendelsohn appear effective to the extent that they have
drawn key audiences’ attention back to the factual context of the
However, despite the defeat in the Lords, News International has managed
to secure clarity of position from the Government on the issue.
While any defeat for the Government makes a good news story these days,
it is always going to be unlikely that ministers will want to buckle
under pressure from an Upper House which they are committed to
However, much of the opinion-forming press was fascinated by the debate
and News International’s opponents have been extremely effective in
putting the issue back on the map. Whether this will revive the
Independent’s mixed fortunes seems unlikely - continued attrition in the
market for the heavies seems set to continue to be the order of the day
for some time.