Rupert Murdoch's influence in Britain

No matter what you might hear sometimes, we Brits are generally very fond of Americans. We like the Australians too, except when they beat us at cricket. But there's one Australian turned American who makes many of my fellow countrymen very angry. Rupert Murdoch. He wields a lot of influence around here and it looks like he's about to wield a whole lot more. Ten years ago when I was part of Prime Minister Tony Blair's inner team at Downing Street, I was lucky enough to sit in on Cabinet meetings. And there often seemed to be an extra invisible person around the table. When it came to the really big decisions - about international relations, wars, Britain's relationship with Europe, and who we did or didn't let into the country, Rupert Murdoch's views counted for more than most actual Cabinet Ministers. Why? Because - then as now - he controlled a very large chunk of the British media. A lot of people thought Mr Blair owed his position to Mr Murdoch after his newspapers, which had traditionally supported the Conservative Party, switched to backing Mr. Blair's Labour Party. It was never as simple as that, but that was how it looked. At our last election, just under a year ago, the Murdoch papers switched back to the Conservatives under David Cameron. It didn't help him win outright. He's now Prime Minister at the head of a coalition government. But he too is being accused of dancing to the tune of the media mogul across the water. Ministers have just given the nod to Murdoch's News Corporation taking a majority stake in the Sky satellite television network. Sky News will never be like Fox News in America, thank goodness. And Murdoch has had to agree to guarantees of editorial independence. But he broke similar promises when he bought The London Times thirty years ago. The problem as I see it is not the power he wields directly through what he owns. It's the way Prime Minister after Prime Minister cosies up to him. I discovered for a book I've just published that Gordon Brown once rewrote his budget when he was Treasury Secretary to include a huge cut in income tax, just because he thought Murdoch would be impressed and back his bid to replace Tony Blair as Prime Minister. It cost something like fourteen billion dollars a year. That's a lot of money for some good headlines. If the Murdoch Empire grows still further, who's to say what a future British Prime Minister might be willing to do? This is Lance Price for CBS News in London.

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