Analysis by Media Reform Coalition and 38 Degrees suggests that Murdoch’s lobbying of government intensified ahead of the recent government consultation on the Leveson Inquiry and the announcement by Murdoch’s renewed bid to take over Sky. Between April 2015 and September 2016, senior News Corp executives met with government ministers or their special advisers on 22 separate occasions. 18 involved meetings or gatherings with either the Prime Minister, Chancellor or Culture Secretary, and, out of those, Rupert Murdoch was himself present on at least eight occasions.
Previous research shows that News Corporation executives met with government ministers, officials and advisers ten times in the year leading up to March 2015. And as before, no details regarding purpose for any of the meetings have been provided by the government beyond ‘general discussion’ or ‘introductory’.
The frequency of Murdoch’s encounters with government appear to contradict his recent statement that ‘I have made it a principle all my life never to ask for anything from any prime minister’.
The research also shows that News Corp met with the Prime Minister or Chancellor – the two most powerful figures in government – more than any other organisation or individual during this period. In the year to September 2016, there were 10 meetings involving Rupert Murdoch or senior executives of News Corp and the PM or Chancellor. In the same period, the Prime Minister or Chancellor had:
- 6 meetings with BBC senior management
- 4 meetings with Evgeny Lebedev, owner of The Independent and Evening Standard
- 4 meetings with Japanese telecoms giant Softbank
- 3 meetings each with JP Morgan, Siemens, Blackrock, HSBC and the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI)
There were also several government meetings with representatives of Sky and one with 21st Century Fox. Both companies are headed by Rupert’s son James, who resigned temporarily from Sky in 2012 amid the continuing fallout from the phone hacking scandal but returned to the helm in January of last year. Since then, Murdoch has moved to further restore the power of his media empire, pursuing a renewed bid for Sky – Britain’s monopoly satellite broadcaster – via his 21st Century Fox arm. His first attempt to buy out the company in 2011 was aborted in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.
The subsequent conviction and imprisonment of Andy Coulson, former News of the World editor and former Number 10 head of communications under David Cameron, has also done nothing to dampen News Corp’s close relationship with government ministers. In September 2016 alone, News Corp CEO Robert Thompson met with Prime Minister Theresa May, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Culture Secretary Karen Bradley. Prime Minister May also met with Rupert Murdoch that month during a one-night trip to New York.
Responding to the investigation, Justin Schlosberg, chair of the Media Reform Coalition said:
“Decades of rampant criminality and corruption within the Murdoch newsrooms does not appear to be of concern to the present government, as senior ministers continue to sit down with News Corp bosses at a rate that dwarfs other companies and organisations. It’s as if it’s part of their job description.”
NB The evidence collated for this story was gleaned from quarterly returns published by government departments detailing all gifts, hospitality and meetings with outside organisations involving ministers, senior officials and special advisors. The collated data does not include meetings with journalists and editors only (from News UK or Sky). Where there was any doubt as to whether senior Sky or News Corp executives were present, the data were excluded. Nor does it include hospitality that does not obviously involve meeting or discussion (e.g. tickets to the Ashes test cricket). Apparent duplicates and meetings with subsidiaries unrelated to news (e.g. Sky Betting and Gaming) were also discounted.