David Cameron has been accused of making a “contract” with Britain's biggest media company to trade political support before an election for Government favours afterwards if the Tories win.
The accusation was levelled yesterday by Business Secretary Peter Mandelson. Ministers are angry at The Sun campaign against Gordon Brown this week over his misspelt letter to the mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan.
They suspect the Conservative Party has been tailoring its policies on media regulation and the BBC to suit News International, which owns The Sun, and that The Sun's aggressive support for the Tories is a pay-off that could spread to other parts of the mass media.
Examples of the apparent tie-in between what News International's boss James Murdoch wants, and what David Cameron is ready to promise, include the recent decision by the Conservatives to abandon the idea of “top slicing” the BBC licence fee.
It had been proposed that part of the money paid to the BBC would be siphoned off to help regional television companies meet the threat from the internet.
But this would also have helped them compete more effectively against Britain's only satellite channel Sky News, which is part of the Murdoch empire.
“They've effectively formed a contract, over the head, incidentally, of the newspaper's editor and their readers, in which they are sort of bound to one another,” Lord Mandelson alleged yesterday.
The Sun's political editor Tom Newton Dunn accused Lord Mandelson of talking “nonsense”.