'The Sun' newspaper: will Sky News become as partial?

Last month, the British business secretary Peter Mandelson suggested in the House of Lords that in return for The Sun's enthusiastic support the Tory leader has agreed to legislate to ensure that BSkyB, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, should remain pre-eminent in the pay-television sector.

According to Mandelson, Murdoch wants to reduce the power of the regulator Ofcom and dispense with impartiality laws that govern British television.

There is no doubt that he is correct about this since in a speech last August, James Murdoch – Rupert's son and presumed heir – made precisely these arguments.

This has led to speculation that the Murdochs want to change Sky News, at present constrained by British impartiality laws, into something resembling their unashamedly right-wing Fox News channel in the US.

The plot thickened last week when John Ryley, head of Sky News, said in a speech at Cambridge that the impartiality laws should be scrapped.

We may be sure he was reflecting what he thinks are the views of both Murdochs. He also pooh-poohed Lord Mandelson's suggestion that Sky News might follow The Sun in promoting the Tories. Ryley's speech was perplexing in one respect.

While arguing for the removal of impartiality laws, he said it would make no difference to Sky News, since its audience wanted impartiality, and it was "good business" for it to remain impartial. If that is so, why bother to get rid of the laws at all?

There was another intervention, every bit as calculated, a few days before Ryley's speech. Matthew Freud, the PR mover and shaker and Rupert Murdoch's son-in-law, was quoted in The New York Times last week attacking Fox News, which he said "embarrassed" and "sickened" some members of the Murdoch family.

An accomplished PR man like Freud does not speak off-script. Moreover, his views partly echo those attributed to Rupert Murdoch himself in Michael Wolff's recent biography.

It seems that even Murdoch may regard Fox as too raucously right-wing. Last week's expression of total support for Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News, from Chase Carey, president of the parent company News Corp, can be reasonably interpreted as a piece of corporate protocol. It was Freud who was reflecting the true party line.

What are we to make of all this? A reasonable interpretation might go as follows. The Murdochs want to get rid of the impartiality laws so they can re-fashion Sky News as and how they please. But through Freud they also want to convey that they won't turn it into Fox News, which is regarded as beyond the pale even in America, and would be unacceptable in Britain – a less right-wing country.

Lord Mandelson's vision of Sky News one day rooting for the Tories in the manner of The Sun is probably far-fetched. Being a born conspirator, he tends to see conspiracies everywhere. On the other hand, during Rupert Murdoch's long years of support for New Labour, he got to know the heart and mind of The Sun king very well.

There is evidently some sort of understanding be­tween Cameron and the Murdochs.

Whether it is an actual deal, time alone will tell.