Les Hinton, executive chairman of News International and Rupert Murdoch’s first lieutenant in the UK, dutifully did his HMV act when appearing late last week before the Parliamentary Joint Scrutiny Committee.
The committee, which is charged with examining the government-sponsored Communications Bill, is taking evidence from interested parties – among whom the Murdoch empire stands in a long line.
Hinton cited BSkyB as an example of the way in which foreign investment benefited the UK media industry, adding: “We are surprised by the almost xenophobic responses of some people [other UK media executives]. This is a country that has allowed cable and satellite TV to thrive through foreign investment. One of the most successful industries, newspapers, has been largely created by foreigners. I don't know why we can't encourage that.”
One observer later questioned Hinton’s definition of “thrive”, given the current parlous indebtedness of Britain’s US-owned cable industry and BSkyB’s negative earnings per share over the last seven quarters (-0.29 in fiscal ended 2001, and -0.74 in 2002).
But Hinton, who has been in Murdoch’s employ since the 1960s – his entire working life – and currently chairs the Press Complaints Commission’s code committee, loyally continued to fight the NewsCorp corner.
He argued that US media titans such as AOL Time Warner or Viacom [he did not mention News Corporation] would not flood the ITV schedules with cheap American programming.
“Any international company operating in foreign markets knows that the only way you can attract an audience ... is to communicate with your local audience,” Hinton said. “I don't think any sensible foreign investor would try to use cheap US programming, because it would not work.”
He was also dismissive about calls for reciprocal liberalization stateside on foreign ownership of the media – one of the parliamentary committee’s key recommendations. “I think the benefit of allowing US investment here can be good for consumers; and making a condition of that our reciprocity is wrong. It is also possible for the US to make exemptions in foreign ownership matters.”
Hinton failed to cite any example of the latter. Nor did he mention that in 1985 his boss traded-in his Australian nationality for US citizenship to shoehorn his pursuit of US media properties.
Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff