Murdoch: Free society needs an independent press

News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch used the inaugural Baroness Thatcher lecture last night to launch a defence of independent professional journalism and free market economics.

He signalled his support for the Coalition Government’s programme of cuts and smaller government saying: ‘Self-serving states are making themselves ever larger, sucking the air of opportunity out of the room. We all have a role in fashioning a society that is driven by aspiration and not crippled by calcification.”

Speaking of the media empire which he largely built in Britain he said: ‘Many of the defining moments of my career have been in Britain. This includes fundamentally changing the newspaper industry in the 1980s – which has helped give us all the uniquely vigorous press we enjoy today.

‘It also includes creating modern digital television.

‘At Sky we built satellite television service from the ground up after others had abandoned hope and investment. At the time, one of my lordly critics suggested that this new enterprise was worse for Britain than the blitz.

‘Nevertheless, we persevered – and the result is that viewers across the country now enjoy great choice, and we have created tens of thousands of new jobs.”

And speaking passionately of the need for a strong and independent press he said: ‘Our new world is one of modern mass communication, phone and text, without limit.

‘Democracy will be from the bottom up, not from the top down. Even so, a free society requires an independent press: turbulent …enquiring…bustling…and free.

‘That’s why our journalism is hard-driving and questioning of authority. And so are our journalists. Often, I have cause to celebrate editorial endeavour. Occasionally, I have had cause for regret.

‘Let me be clear: We will vigorously pursue the truth – and we will not tolerate wrongdoing.

‘Now, it would certainly serve the interests of the powerful if professional journalists were muted – or replaced as navigators in our society by bloggers and bloviators.

‘Bloggers can have a social role – but that role is very different to that of the professional seeking to uncover facts, however uncomfortable. A free society also requires a government with backbone.”

Murdoch made his speech as business secretary Vince Cable mulls whether or not to approve News Corp’s take-over of the 61 per cent of BSkyB it doesn’t already own.

The move has prompted an unprecedented coalition of rival publishers and the BBC to oppose the move arguing that it would make the company too big and powerful in the UK.

Obliquely responding to this point, Murdoch said in his speech: ‘I am something of a parvenu, but we should welcome the iconoclastic and the unconventional. And we shouldn’t curb their enthusiasm or energy. That is what competition is all about.

‘Yet when the upstart is too successful, somehow the old interests surface, and restrictions on growth are proposed or imposed. That’s an issue for my company. More important, it’s an issue for our broader society.

‘These are the small thinkers who believe their job is to cut the cake up rather than make it bigger.

‘In my own industry, for example, digital technology is offering a chance for British companies to make their mark here and across the world.

‘When The Times was founded in 1785, its influence was confined to a handful of important people in this city. Today, its content echoes around the world every day. And it has digital competitors who were not even conceived a decade ago.

‘In the past too, television programmes were confined to a single screen. Now they can be watched whenever you want and wherever you are – whether on a mobile phone, a tablet or a computer. For all the change, we are still at the early stages of this revolution.

‘It’s not just media. This is an exciting period in every sector. And our competitive passions should be stirred by the sense of challenge and opportunity.

‘In short, Britain needs companies robust enough to compete in this global market – whether in finance or pharmaceuticals, transport or telecommunications, retail or entertainment. And we need to attract the brightest talent, regardless of background and ethnicity.

‘In other words, Britain should be a magnet for the best students and best workers from around the world.”

Speaking about his vision for a successful Britain, Murdoch said it would involve: “A government that spends modestly, because it leaves its people free to make their own decisions for themselves …

“Citizens who look out at the world with confidence, because they have grown up accustomed to taking responsibility for themselves, and are allergic to the culture of dependency….

‘Corporate and technological sectors that thrive on change, and use the freedom of the market to innovate and grow.

‘Above all, a successful Britain would have a society that cherishes opportunity and creativity – making opportunity available to all, and believing that there is creativity in all, where individuals do not feel guilty of wealth or being exceptional, but work hard and exercise humility.”

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