Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580
TUESDAY 5 MARCH 2002
580. My point is not that is has actually happened
but that there is the potential to do it.
(Alison Clark) People in the end do make choices about
what they watch and read. Those consumers are making those choices.
It is not the owner saying, "You have to watch this"
and "You have to read this." They are the people who
581. I do not think it is as simple as that.
I think people build up a brand loyalty. It is what they see their
parents buyingmaybe it is The Sun or The People
or something like that. They build up a brand loyalty: that is
what they know, that is what they have with their dinner, and
that is what they buy. If an argument is slipped in, they are
just reading it. It is not the sort of loyalty you are talking
about which just disappears when they make those sorts of choices.
The vast majority of people pick up the same newspaper every day
and carry on and on and on. At least they do in my constituency,
because I see the piles of newspapers when I talk to all the newsagents
who lobby me about different things.
(Dr Stelzer) The Express might wish that were
true. We just do not share the same fears.
582. Bearing in mind what you said to Michael
a short while ago, can we assume that Mr Murdoch is going to go
back to being an Australian citizen, rather than carrying on his
American citizenship which he needed to buy his interests over
(Dr Stelzer) I do not know what his citizenship plans
are. If he bows to his mother's wishes, he might, but I think
he plans to remain an American citizen. I do not believe that
the change was made for the reasons that people attribute to Mr
Murdoch. I am a friend of Mr Murdoch's. I think it was done because
there is something about the open American economic system of
opportunity that appeals to him a lot emotionally. Not that it
was an easy decision. So the answer is: I do not think it is likely
but I have no inside information on that.
583. I rather share your view of the way the
world ought to work with regard to the Communications Bill. The
only point I would share in part is that there is an issue about
ownership, major global interests ownership. For example, at the
time when Mr Murdoch had interests in China, it was suggested
that the Chris Patten book about China was not given quite the
same coverage in your stable as was the case previous to that.
The details of the case are irrelevant, the fact is that if you
have a very big global player like the Murdoch empire then clearly
there are going to be interests in one part of the world which
he may well prefer to censor in other parts of the world, because
it would be seen to be anathema to his interests if he was seen
to report it and to use it and publish it. How can you be sure
that that is not the case?
(Dr Stelzer) First of all, I think that was a silly
decision not to publish the book; although its subsequent reception
would suggest that it was not a stupid commercial decision. Second,
I think it proves a point that the book was published. Somebody
else published the book. It probably sold a lot more copies because
Mr Murdoch's organisationI think, incorrectlydecided
not to publish it, but there was no control. There was no way
to prevent Chris Patten's views from being heard and the book
from being published. So the fact that one organisation made a
silly mistake does not indicate that there is any control over
access to the market for this particular point of view.
584. Does it not matter that it was an effective
attempt at censorship in your stable which would be offensive
to some people here if you controlled, as you do, a significant
part of the market and maybe more so in your new global world.
I think that is the worry.
(Dr Stelzer) Yes, it would worry me if, for instance,
Mr Murdoch owned the only book publisher in the world, or the
only book publisher in Britain, and could kill a book because
he did not like the colour of the guy's eyes or did not like what
he said about China. That would trouble me enormously. That is
why I am for competition policy, which would not let that happen.
585. But, for example, we may get to the pointand
you have tried very hard to get to this pointwhere you
were the only effective competitor on television news, if you
got the contract for ITV over ITN for that Channel 3 market as
news provider. You would then have Sky news, you would have ITV
news, and the only other person competing against you would have
been the BBC. You may say, "Of course, that is fine because
you can still watch something about China on the BBC," but
I find that somewhat offensive, that you should be in a position
whereby, as such a major news provider in this country, your global
interests could affect what I see on that channel. That is what
I want reassurance on.
(Alison Clark) We do not control BSkyB. Secondly,
as the Chairman said at the beginning, Sky news is impartial,
it has been shown to be impartial ever since it started.
(Dr Stelzer) Can I add to that. First of all, you
would have a much more monolithic news situation in Britain if
there were no Sky news. There would not be a Sky news if there
were not a global media organisation to have made it go, with
the financial ability it had and with the technical skills. I
was there when it started and I saw imported from all overfrom
the sports people who knew how to put sports pictures on the air
from Australia; the people from a movie studio who knew how to
put The Simpsons on the air. You would have a much, much
less diverse broadcast news situation if there was not an international
media company that found a way to enter the British market.
Michael Fabricant: And we would not have
had The Times either.
Chairman: It does occur to me that 60
years ago William Randolph Hearst and the Chicago Tribune
destroyed Citizen Kane's commercial proposition and destroyed
any possibility of a consistent Hollywood career for Orson Welles.
I do not see that as a possibility today. Thank you very much.