In an exclusive interview with the Observer, the British opposition party leader called for cross-party agreement on new media ownership laws that would cut Murdoch’s current market share, arguing that he has “too much power over British public life.”
Labour Party chief Ed Miliband said that the abandonment last week by News International of its bid for BSkyB, the resignation on Friday of its chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, and the closure of the News of the World are insufficient to restore trust and reassure the public.
The Labour leader says that current media ownership rules are outdated, describing them as “analogue rules for a digital age” that do not take into account the advent of mass digital and satellite broadcasting.
“I think that we’ve got to look at the situation whereby one person can own more than 20 percent of the newspaper market, the Sky platform and Sky News,” Miliband said. “I think it’s unhealthy because that amount of power in one person’s hands has clearly led to abuses of power within his organization. If you want to minimize the abuses of power then that kind of concentration of power is frankly quite dangerous.”
The move takes Miliband’s campaign against the abuse of media power to new heights after two weeks in which he has reinvigorated his own leadership by leading the attack on the Murdoch empire. While he insisted that the recently announced inquiries should take their course, the Labour leader said he hoped the main parties could agree on a common approach.
His latest intervention comes ahead of what promises to be a dramatic appearance by Rupert Murdoch, his son James, the chief executive of News Corp Europe and Asia, and Brooks before the House of Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Committee tomorrow.
Committee members preparing to grill the trio are to be given legal advice on the morning of the hearing on how far they can push the News Corp boss and his son for answers. The committee’s chairman, Tory MP John Whittingdale, has also asked them to send him details of their preferred lines of questioning to avoid duplication.
News Corp is understood to be concerned that the committee will set a trap by asking questions the Murdochs are unable to answer because of the continuing criminal investigations and are taking advice on how to avoid yet another public relations disaster as the company attempts to rebuild its reputation.
Further pressure was piled on Murdoch this weekend after the Liberal Democrats wrote to the UK media regulator Ofcom urging it to launch an investigation that could see his holding company News Corp forced to sell its stake in satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
The Broadcasting Act places a duty on the regulator to consider “any relevant conduct of those who manage and control such a licence.”
Although News Corp, whose News International subsidiary owned the News of the World, has only a minority 39 percent share in BSkyB, the Lib Dems say the company is “strongly placed materially to influence the policy and strategic direction of BskyB,” suggesting the regulator is duty bound to investigate.
Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes, Lib Dem media spokesman Don Foster and party president Tim Farron are demanding the watchdog’s members “take measures now to satisfy yourself” that the owners of the BSkyB license continue to be “fit and proper” given “the manifest public concern about News International’s activities, the close integration of News International with its parent company News Corporation, [and] News Corp’s effective control of BSkyB.”
In his interview, Miliband said that once a Sunday Sun was launched, possibly next month, this would add further to the Murdoch empire’s penetration of the UK media market.
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