Rupert Murdoch has asserted many times that he has never asked anything from a prime minister yet the Guardian has proof that contradict that claim, as do I.
The Guardian has carried a report that Murdoch has asserted: ‘I have made it a principle all my life never to ask for anything from any Prime Minister.’
The Guardian has produced notes that contradict Murdoch’s claim. The Guardian says that minutes of a 1998 meeting show that Rupert Murdoch asked Tony Blair to ‘rein in’ the European Commission on the Sky-BT deal.
In my book ‘Things you learn along the way’, I set out how Murdoch asked Gough Whitlam, the new Australian prime minister in 1972, for his appointment as Australian High Commissioner to the UK. I wrote:
I do think that Murdoch’s powers are overestimated, particularly by politicians. Murdoch’s papers are influential but, more importantly, he can pick public moods and trends and reinforce them. He will back political winners who he thinks can be made kings. Whosoever wins, Murdoch is determined not to be a loser. It didn’t need a king-maker to conclude that Whitlam would win in 1972, Fraser in 1975, Reagan in 1984, Thatcher in 1987 and Blair in 1997. Murdoch’s political power is that politicians think he can make or break them and they are not prepared to chance their careers on a gamble to find out. The perception is enough. Politicians now fall over themselves to advantage or at least not to disadvantage Murdoch. He often does not have to ask for favours; they are offered. With Keating he didn’t even have to pay his respects at the Lodge. Keating called at Murdoch’s Red Hill residence.
Murdoch certainly believed he had played a major part in the 1972 election result and that something was due to him. What he asked for was that he be appointed as Australian High Commissioner to London. He wasn’t seeking business favours. He wanted acceptance and recognition, and what could be better than a prestigious position in London where he could thumb his nose at the English Establishment, which had not accepted him?
Murdoch raised the appointment with me and explained that if he was the High Commissioner he would put his newspaper and television interests in a trust so there would not be a conflict of interest. He believed also that he could influence other Australian media proprietors and avoid media flak for the new government over the appointment. He has since denied that he sought the High Commissioner’s job.
I raised it with Mick Young. The absurdity of it amused him. I put it to Whitlam on the phone. It was the Sunday morning a week after the election. We had a lengthy discussion.
Whitlam had made a commitment to John Armstrong to appoint him the High Commissioner. Armstrong had been a Labor senator since 1937 and a former Chifley Government minister. He was very successful in London. But Whitlam was adamant about Rupert for London. ‘No way,’ he said.
After 12 months a person with Murdoch’s energy and ambitions seeing what power is about would have become bored with the job. But that was what he was after at the time. As far as I could tell, he carried no grudge for the knockback. In the cold light of day he may have come to the view that the request was a bit rich. Setbacks, though, never slowed him down.
Murdoch has denied that he asked Prime Minister Whitlam for the London appointment. I stand by what I wrote in 1999. In 1972, I was general manager, News Ltd Sydney.