Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580 - 585)



  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 protect that.

  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 buying—maybe 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.

Miss Kirkbride

  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 there?
  (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 organisation—I think, incorrectly—decided 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 point—and you have tried very hard to get to this point—where 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 over—from 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.

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