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Behind the Mirror

Tessa Myer on the row about the appointment of ex-Murdoch men to run the Daily Mirror

David Montgomery, former editor of Rupert Murdoch's Today newspaper, is the new chief executive of Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN). When 'Monty' left Today, he had already axed 46 journalists to cut losses. His first act at the Mirror was to sack editor Richard Stott and bring in David Banks. Banks is another ex-Murdoch man, having edited the Digger's Telegraph-Mirror in Australia. Almost his first act as Mirror editor was to axe 100 freelance writers (a third of the Mirror's journalists).

Journalists and liberal media commentators have reacted with understandable anger to events at Mirror HQ. There has been much talk of a new 'Wapping at the Mirror', and of the management methods of Murdoch's News International 'infiltrating' the Mirror. There has also been worried speculation that Montgomery and Banks might try to switch the paper's support from the Labour Party.

The big four

Much of this discussion misses the point. Murdoch has never had a monopoly on dictatorial management methods in the press. All of the popular papers are controlled by billionaire capitalist interests. And they are all cutting back to make savings in the slump.

Ten companies own all the national newspapers in Britain. The top four companies - News International, Mirror Group Newspapers, United Newspapers, and Daily Mail and General Trust - now control all of Britain's tabloid newspapers (except for the Daily and Sunday Sport). They account for 84.9 per cent of national daily newspaper sales and 88.4 per cent of the national Sunday newspaper sales (source: ABC figures for newspaper sales, October 1992).

News International controls 32 per cent of daily newspaper and 36 per cent of Sunday newspaper sales with the Times, the Sunday Times, the Sun, Today and the News of the World. The Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and the People account for MGN's 25 per cent share of daily newspaper and 29 per cent of the Sunday newspaper sales. United Newspapers (daily 16 per cent, Sunday 11 per cent) owns the Daily Express, Daily Star and the Sunday Express, while the Daily Mail and General Trust (daily 12 per cent, Sunday 13 per cent) controls the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday.

Rupert Murdoch, the man behind everything from the Sun newspaper to BSkyB, is certainly a right-wing capitalist with the ear of presidents and prime ministers. But then all of the executives who run the big newspaper-owning companies are influential figures who wine and dine with the heads of banks and Tory ministers.

Press barons and knights

Baron David Stevens (aka Lord Stevens of Ludgate) became chairman of United Newspapers in 1981 after a long career in several financial companies - a useful background for contacts in the City when United took over Express Newspapers with a bid of £317m in 1985.

Lord Rothermere, chairman of Daily Mail and General Trust, is another Tory press baron. His socialite wife, the late Lady 'Bubbles' Rothermere, used to entertain the well connected at lavish London parties. The first Lord Rothermere, known for his admiration of Hitler and Oswald Mosley, is fondly remembered for running a Daily Mail leader in January 1934 entitled 'Hurrah for the Brownshirts'.

Former editors of newspapers that have given front-page support to the Tory Party have been given knighthoods in recent years. These include Sir David English, former editor of the Daily Mail, Sir Nicholas Lloyd, editor of the Daily Express and Sir Larry Lamb, former editor of the Sun.

Robert Maxwell's reign at MGN fits into the same mould; an overweight millionaire media magnate, cruising on luxury yachts, mixing cocktails with heads of state and industrialists and building up a huge empire. Margaret Thatcher is said to have joked about Maxwell being 'one of us'. Maxwell certainly needed no lessons from Murdoch in editorial interference or staff cuts. His support for the Labour Party did not stop him sacking employees on a whim and bullying staff into accepting tougher conditions.

As Murdoch's Sunday Times pointed out with some relish as the row about 'Monty' took off, 'when Daily Mirror journalists start looking back at the Robert Maxwell era with fond nostalgia, the going must be getting tough' (22 November).

Neither has the recent appointment of 'the Red baron', Labour peer Lord Hollick, as a non-executive director at Mirror Group Newspapers done anything to avoid job losses. Indeed, there is no reason for Montgomery to change the Mirror's allegiance from Labour. The market for Tory tabloids is already swamped. Supporting Labour is just a marketing ploy which, as Maxwell proved, need not interfere with behaving like a gangster.

Bank manager

Montgomery may have been trained by Murdoch, but he was appointed to run the Mirror Group by super-respectable British banks. Maxwell's legacy was to leave hundreds of former staff without their pension savings and the Mirror with £450m debts. National Westminster and Goldman Sachs now control the Mirror Group. They have drafted in Montgomery to secure profits by rationalising spending.

All the millionaire barons that control the industry are intent on securing profits in the face of the slump. The whole of the British popular press are run on these lines: they're all big businesses and they're all attacking their workforces. Many journalists are already employed as 'casuals', with no contracts, and sackings occur without negotiation. Those with individually negotiated contracts can find they are shown the door anyway. This is entirely within the tradition of the British press.

Whether newspapers are owned by an Australian-turned-American like Murdoch, an ex-Czech emigre with Labour Party credentials like Maxwell, a blue-suited banker or a Tory Party aristocrat, the capitalist press is run along increasingly authoritarian lines. The central issue which needs to be addressed is the defence of jobs and opposition to wage cuts. That should not be confused with a pointless debate about which boss ought to own and run which newspaper.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 51, January 1993

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