Andrew Neil stepped in to the Rupert Murdoch controversy yesterday - insisting that all the spin doctors need to relax — Murdoch is NOT getting out of the British newspaper business.
And he might even rub the British establishment noses in it - by backing Scottish independence.
Neil, former editor of the Sunday Times, writing on the Daily Beast website, said Murdoch's decision to step down from several boards that nominally control his U.K. newspaper interests "prompted excited minds on both sides of the Atlantic this weekend to speculate it was a precursor to the 81-year-old media magnate getting out of newspapers altogether"
Neil declared, "The speculators are wrong.
"For a start, the boards he's resigning from have no power and very rarely meet. They're boilerplate corporate structures masking the fact Murdoch is in complete control of his U.K. papers.
"The Times Newspaper board, for example, is supposed to oversee the London Times and The Sunday Times. I doubt it’s ever taken on an important decision in its life, unless prompted to by Murdoch. Ditto the News Group board, which oversees his London tabloids .
Murdoch is gone from both, said Neil. " But he will still hold sway over the newspapers under their toothless grip. He is also walking away from the News International board, the London corporate brolly for all his U.K. newspapers. That might seem more significant. But, again, it’s pretty much a corporate shell, and the CEO will still report directly to Murdoch in New York."
Neil said he was inclined to believe the Murdoch spin doctors when they described the move as a “corporate house-cleaning exercise” prior to News Corp. being split into an entertainment company and a publishing company (which will encompass his U.S., U.K., and Australian newspapers).
"Murdoch hasn’t been CEO of his U.K. newspapers for two decades—and that hasn’t made his grip on them any less vicelike," added Neil.
"The fact is Murdoch will still be chairman of the largest newspaper group in the world after the split.
"His interest in Britain might be waning—especially now that he’s largely persona non grata among the London political elite after the hacking scandal—but the publishing company will include The Wall Street Journal, which he acquired only a few years ago and which is now the main reason he gets out of bed very early every morning. He’s not about to sell that any time soon."
British Labour M.P. Tom Watson is accusing Murdoch of “deserting his loyal [newspaper] staff” in the U.K. and claims they will “smell betrayal,” said Neil.
"But Watson wants to run Murdoch out of London town and, like so many frantic British commentators, is just stirring things up. He is likely to be disappointed."
That might make Murdoch inclined to use his U.K. papers to go to war with the hated British establishment, "specifically to make life difficult for the Cameron government, which he blames for the wide-ranging judicial inquiry into newspapers.".
"Even encouraging," said Neil " the breakup of Britain by supporting Scottish separatism via his Glasgow-based Sun. That would be sweet revenge indeed!"