The battle over BT’s Openreach division has taken a disturbing new turn, suggesting that the Murdoch mafiosi are mobilising to try and force the split between the parent company and its infrastructure arm, despite a recent Ofcom ruling that stopped short of demanding such a move. And it points to, as with recent moves against the BBC, a weak Minister being deliberately manipulated by a Murdoch placeman.
Karen Bradley - a weak minister?
As Zelo Street regulars will know, Culture Secretary Karen Bradley, who likes to tell anyone who will listen that as someone new to the job she is in “listening mode”, has told the Beeb that they should disclose the salary details for anyone earning more than £150,000 a year, partly because this is “more than the Prime Minister”. The comparison is of course fatuous: the PM’s remuneration is about a lot more than basic salary.
It has also not escaped the notice of those observing the first steps of the new Culture Secretary that her first appointment of a Special Advisor (SpAd) was Craig Woodhouse, formerly senior political correspondent of the Murdoch Sun. It is the most remarkable coincidence that Woodhouse passes through the revolving door, and almost immediately afterwards, Ms Bradley tables a proposal the Sun has been screaming for.
Craig Woodhouse - allowed a little too close to Government
And now it has happened again: Ofcom ruled in July that there need be no separation of BT and its Openreach division. Yet there was Ms Bradley last week telling “We have been clear that we will not stop … if that means structural separation then this Government is prepared to look at that. Ofcom has made some recommendations. We will look carefully at those. We need to make sure we get this right. Nothing is off the table”.
Well, well. And today the Murdoch Times has gone on the attack with an editorial telling readers “Karen Bradley, secretary for culture, media and sport, has warned BT that the option of forcing the company to split remains on the table. It is time to exercise this option … Ms Bradley has said that she is determined to get the right result for Britain’s broadband future. The right result is a well-regulated but independent Openreach”.
The latest Murdoch demand
In other words, what Ms Bradley, now overseen by her Murdoch placeman, is threatening, and what the Murdoch empire is demanding, is to have one of its major competitors forcibly dismembered on its say-so. BT has moved its tanks onto Sky’s pay TV lawn and the Murdoch mafiosi don’t like that one bit. What forcibly splitting up BT would do for broadband speeds is not Murdoch’s problem, so long as they can still get Sky.
Clearly alert to the threats and ministerial manipulation, BT has joined forces with Virgin Media - Richard Branson is another of Murdoch’s bêtes noires - and it has been stressed “Together, BT and Virgin Media own and operate the entirety of Britain's broadband cable network. Aside from Virgin, all other internet service providers piggyback on BT's Openreach network to provide internet access to their customers”.
Quite. But it is once more worrying that the Murdoch mafiosi appear to be able to manipulate a weak minister. Expect this disruptive behaviour to continue unchecked.