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Last updated: January 26, 2007 6:40 pm

Power to shape debate waning, say Murdoch and Brown

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A ritual for any aspiring British leader is to pay homage at the feet of Rupert Murdoch, the owner of four British newspapers, including the Sun, which famously claimed it was the paper “wot won it” for John Major as prime minister in the 1992 general election.

But if Mr Murdoch is to be believed, there is not much point of all the schmoozing any more. Asked whether there was any agenda he wanted to shape in society with his media presence, he said: “No, not at all.”

“We cannot change elections,” he explained, contradicting the claims of his former newspaper editors. “News organisations can help shape the agenda but only in a limited way,” he added, citing the example of how his News Corp’s general support for the US administration’s Iraq policy had failed to influence US or world public opinion.

But the new humility of Mr Murdoch has not stopped the candidates working to gain his attention at Davos this week.

David Cameron, the leader of the UK’s opposition Conservative party, spent much of Thursday night holding forth with the media mogul in a super-heated canvas igloo designed to underpin the green credentials of the World Economic Forum’s “young global leaders”.

And in a public session on Friday morning, Gordon Brown, the UK chancellor, spent an hour finding common cause with Mr Murdoch on how the internet and blogging changed everything in politics and in media.

“We are seeing an explosion of freedom of expression,” Mr Murdoch said, arguing that the internet provided “tremendous pluralism” and politicians had to recognise that everything was now open. The internet helped to get out the facts and correct wrong information quickly, he insisted.

“No one can prevent information coming into the country,” Mr Brown concurred.

“The old politics of behind- the-scenes agreement – they’re as out of date as the idea of a smoke-filled room.”

Politicians, he said, had been in the slow lane in dealing with the new ways of shaping the agenda.

Not only were the two agreed on the power of new communications technology, they also insisted that leadership was still required to “shape the agenda in a new way”, as Mr Brown put it.

Mr Murdoch could not have put it better himself. “We shouldn’t lay down and say here’s the internet and let’s poll the internet,” he said.

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