Ian Burrell: At long last the watchdog is off the leash – and on the scent

The Ofcom inquiry has been ratcheted up from a 'monitoring phase' to a far more serious 'evidence-gathering phase'

Share
Related Topics

It was the day the watchdog finally revealed its fangs to the neighbourhood tough guy. For months there has been a low-level growl of disapproval from Ofcom, sniffing around in the shape of its preliminary inquiry into whether News Corp is "fit and proper" to have access to the British television sector as the major shareholder in the satellite broadcaster BSkyB.

But yesterday the watchdog broke its chain and went on the attack. The News Corp subsidiary News Group Newspapers (NGN) was ordered to hand over documents that had not been in the public domain. The Ofcom inquiry was ratcheted up from a "monitoring phase" to a far more serious "evidence-gathering phase".

Ofcom appears to have scented something; the paperwork that NGN must disclose is potentially explosive as it relates to the civil litigation cases over phone-hacking that News Corp has been trying to settle out of court. It is understood that the company will comply with the request.

This week the watchdog has been sorely provoked. Internal News Corp emails disclosed to the Leveson Inquiry on Tuesday showed the regulator was being talked of with disdain in exchanges between the company and Jeremy Hunt, who apparently accused Ofcom of "clear bias" over News Corp's bid to take control of BSkyB.

The demand for unseen documents is seen as a pivotal moment in broadcast regulation. "It's a fantastic step," said Steven Barnett, Professor of Communications at the University of Westminster. "A year ago Ofcom would not have had the corporate courage to have done something like this because they would have been slaughtered. This is the regulator doing what it should have been doing all along and flexing its muscles."

Rupert Murdoch may not have completely abandoned his ambitions to own the highly profitable BSkyB. But the latest development increases the possibility that his company will lose even the lucrative 39.1 per cent share in the broadcaster that it still has (an unthinkable situation last year when the bid looked set to be approved by Mr Hunt). Further criticisms of News Corp's corporate behaviour are expected in an imminent report by the House of Commons Culture committee.

The American authorities will be watching all these developments closely, said Bob Calver, senior broadcast lecturer at Birmingham City University. “If the Murdoch empire is not seen as fit and proper to own a broadcast licence in the UK, the American regulators and investigators will wonder what that says about their fitness to operate in the US.”

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Personal Finance Editor: Cutting out the middle man could spell disaster for employees and consumers alike

Simon Read
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch  

Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes tell you what to think. Don't let them

Memphis Barker
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week