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JOHN MAJOR’S Tory government worried about how to handle Rupert Murdoch’s growing media empire, newly released government papers reveal.
Downing Street began to compile a confidential briefing on the “financial performance, market share, [and] plans for expansion” of News Corporation, ahead of the PM meeting the media tycoon in August 1993.
The meeting came after a torrent of bad publicity in the Murdoch press, with one Sun leader saying Mr Major was “a nice guy but not up to [the] job.”
Then home secretary Michael Howard asked the PM about what “tactics we should adopt towards the Murdoch press.”
He wrote: “I fully share your dismay at their behaviour since the election. But we shall need them at the next election.”
Mr Major’s press secretary, Gus O’Donnell, commented that “overall, Murdoch’s views are very much anti-union, pro-free markets.”
The civil servant added that “Given Murdoch’s high level of debt, he is very keen to see interest rates as low as possible.”
He suggested that the prime minister tell Murdoch “your papers have made matters worse ... They are now simply anti-everything and anti-me in particular.”
“This is bad for economic confidence and hence, bad for business,” he continued. “Conservative MPs now see no reason to be helpful to media.”
Mr O’Donnell was surprised to learn that Mr Murdoch called the Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie almost daily for updates on British politics.
“God alone knows what Kelvin tells him, as he is often very poorly informed. This explains why Murdoch frequently obtains very biased views of what is happening here,” he remarked.
A year after the Major/Murdoch meeting, Tony Blair became leader of the Labour Party and began to woo Mr Murdoch over to support New Labour.
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