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Murdoch target in war against media takeovers

London, May 29 (Reuters): Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is the poster boy for the evils of increased media consolidation in a new ad campaign launched this week.

The News Corp chairman and chief executive, whose empire also includes BSkyB and Fox Entertainment, is at the centre of deregulation initiatives currently pending in both the US and Britain.

A far-reaching communications Bill in the British parliament hit a roadblock this month because of opposition to the so-called “Murdoch clause”, which would allow the owner of the Sun and Times of London newspapers to purchase the Channel Five television station.

In the US, where News Corp.’s holdings include the New York Post newspaper and the recently acquired satellite firm DirecTV, the Federal Communications Commission will decide on Monday whether to relax ownership restrictions on local television stations and newspapers.

“This Man Wants to Control the News in America,” states a new series of ads that feature a scowling Murdoch on four television screens, launched in several US newspapers by three groups opposed to loosening restrictions on media ownership.

“Unless we act now, Rupert Murdoch is going to get his way.”

An accompanying television ad features a man desperately changing channels, only to find Murdoch on every station.

Murdoch has become the lightning rod for critics of media consolidation despite the fact that companies like Viacom, owner of MTV and CBS, are far larger. In part, that’s because he is more of a celebrity than Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone.

But the interest groups that organised the ads say they chose to pillory Murdoch primarily because News Corp uses its immense reach in the media to actively lobby for changes that benefit the company. The high profile of the Fox News channel during the Iraq war, when its coverage was criticised as overly partisan and biased, did not help things.

“Viacom holds somewhat less interest because they are a much more anonymous company,” said Robert McChesney, founder of the advocacy group Free Press, which along with MoveOn.org and Common Cause created the ads.

“Murdoch is clearly leading the fight so he can buy more and more. ... (It’s) his apparent willingness to use his control of media to advance his own political gains,” he said.

Because Murdoch is News Corp’s controlling shareholder, as well as its chairman and CEO, the aims of the man and the company are basically one and the same, he added.

News Corp was not available for comment.

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