The latest issue of the Spectator features an article in qualified defence of Rupert
Murdoch by William Shawcross, author of Murdoch: the Making of a Media Empire. In it, Shawcross writes:
‘Simon Jenkins, now a Guardian columnist, wrote before the current horrors that Murdoch ‘is the best thing that ever happened to the British media and they hate it.’ He was
right. There are obviously many things wrong with Murdoch’s group, but without his epic victory over the print unions in the 1980s, there would be far fewer papers in Britain today. Murdoch
means pluralism…Who else would have subsidised the huge losses of the Times, an excellent paper, for so long?’
Say what you like about Rupert Murdoch (and it is the height of fashion to so this season), but he deserves a little credit for subsidising quality broadsheet reporting with profits drawn from
elsewhere. Today’s Times contains one story that hints at the value of that strategy. Emblazoned across page 19 is
the headline (£): ‘Times wins u-turn over danger money for Libya combat missions’. There then follows an account of the government’s decision, after considerable
pressure from the Times, to award airmen and sailors serving within 12 nautical miles of Libya’s coast the £29.02p per day that their comrades in Afghanistan receive; a benefit that was
previously denied to them.
Politically, this has been an ignominious episode for the government. No adequate explanation was given for why ‘danger money’ was withheld in the first place. And, oddly for the
MoD, no leak emerged to justify the decision in retrospect. It also undermined the view that Gaddafi’s forces are armed to the teeth and murderous, on which the military intervention is
predicated; perhaps this contributed to the growing political unease surrounding the operation.
More broadly, the story compounded the sense that the coalition is struggling to honour its promises on the military covenant. The u-turn reveals
that the government is conscious of these concerns and the damage they may cause over time. This welcome reversal may not have happened without the Times.