After the EU approved News Corp's bid to take over full control of BSkyB yesterday, a new aspect of the story emerged when it was revealed that UK business secretary Vince Cable, who was due to take the final decision on the bid, had been secretly recorded saying: "I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we are going to win".
The two young undercover reporters who recorded Cable were journalists of the Telegraph, but Cable's fighting talk did not make the Daily Telegraph front page report this morning, nor was any reference included in a "transcript" of Cable's remarks that appeared on page four, the Guardian reported.
"So incensed was a whistleblower at the Telegraph, that he or she contacted Robert Peston, business editor for BBC News. It was Peston - a former business editor at the Sunday Telegraph - who broke the story at 2.30 pm", the Guardian wrote.
Furthmore, Peston later told the Guardian that the whistleblower had told him that the Telegraph "had made a commercial decision not to publish those remarks".
As the Guardian article underlined, the Telegraph Media Group, owned since 2004 by Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, had led a group of seven media companies - including the owners of the Daily Mirror, the Daily Mail and the Guardian - in opposition to the Murdoch deal back in October.
A spokesman for the Telegraph, and later a senior journalist, said it had always been planned to publish Cable's remarks the morning after.
"However, for the past two months coverage of the News Corporation/BSkyB merger has been a sensitive subject for the Daily Telegraph, with several journalists on the title saying that corporate instructions frequently complicated reporting on the developments of the story", noted the Guardian, adding that "Last week a complaint was also made to the Guardian, following an online report that questioned why Telegraph Media Group was so opposed to the deal, amid speculation that the company hoped to see News Corp forced to sell off the Times as a condition for getting the merger through. Telegraph executives had hoped to present a united front against the News Corp bid."
"This reluctance by the Daily Telegraph may be explained by an understandable wish not to help a commercial competitor, though there could be other less cynical explanations", says the New Statesman.
Ofcom, the UK media regulator, is due to pronounce about on whether to allow the News Corp's bid on public interest grounds, but its recommendations would not have been binding for Cable,who had the power to veto the deal on media plurality ground and should have had until January to decide whether to approve the deal or to refer it to the Competition Commission.
After his remarks, BBC News reported that "Downing Street says Mr Cable will keep his job but will be relieved of any role in the BSkyB deal and other such matters in future. These powers will go to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport."
As PressGazette reported, around 70 staff that worked on media policy will now transfer to work under culture secretary Jeremy Hunt - who will now take the final decision to whether or not to allow News Corp to buy the 61 per cent of BSkyB it does not own.
Commentators are now wondering if there is a question of public interest in this kind of secretly-taped conversations. "The revelations are certainly interesting, but is such a clandestine tactic in the public interest?", asks David Allen Green, the legal correspondent of the New Statesman, especially, he continued, because Cable, a Liberal Democrat MP, was speaking at his constituency surgery, and, as a general rule, the constituency surgery of an MP should not be the place for secret recordings. Even if these do not breach any grand politic or legal principle, there is some cause for concern.
"One suspects that the first use of interceptions of voicemails by tabloid reporters had a solid public interest basis; but it was quickly realised that such material was a rich seam to be mined just for trivial stories. Similarly, one hopes that newspapers do not now see constituency surgeries as "fair game". The secret recording of a constituent would never be appropriate: there will always need to be a private space where a constituent can speak candidly to his or her Member of Parliament", Allen Green says.
Press Gazette also wonders about the ethical questions the journalists' behaviour raised. The paper cited Ivor Gaber, City University professor of political journalism, who ask "First, was it justifiable to use subterfuge against Cable when there was, and is, no evidence of wrongdoing? And second, was it right to miss out undoubtedly the most important part of the story because it could, potentially, adversely affect the Telegraph's business interests?"
Sources: Guardian, BBC News, New Statesman, PressGazette (1), (2)