Leading article: Rupert Murdoch gets his political payback

There is something fishy about this meeting of minds between News Corp and the Government

Share
Related Topics

What a difference two months make. In January, Jeremy Hunt said he was "minded" to follow Ofcom's recommendation that the bid of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation to take full control of BSkyB should be referred to the Competition Commission. But yesterday he gave the green light for the bid to proceed without further interference from the regulators.

What changed Mr Hunt's mind? According to him, the answer is a special undertaking made by News Corp – in response to Ofcom's concerns about the impact of the acquisition on the plurality of media ownership – to spin off its news channel as a separate company.

Mr Hunt said yesterday that the move will give Sky News "more independence" from News Corp. But this is doubtful. News Corp would retain a 39 per cent share in the new company and continue to cover the channel's losses. It might be a diluted form of ownership, but it is still ownership. Sky News will also, we are told, have an independent board of directors to guarantee integrity in its reporting.

But similar promises of editorial independence were made after Rupert Murdoch was permitted to buy The Times newspaper group in 1981. They were soon ignored. This proposal is a fig leaf; its purpose is to give the impression of a serious response to concerns about plurality, while avoiding any substantive action.

Promises of good behaviour from some media organisations might be credible. But we should remember the nature of Mr Murdoch's empire. The News of the World appears to have been at the centre of a massive and illegal phone-hacking operation. According to the Labour MP Tom Watson, speaking in the Commons yesterday, journalists employed at other Murdoch titles might have been involved in this, too. Fox News, the Murdoch-owned US channel, is a virulently right-wing broadcaster that has contributed to the disastrous polarisation of the political discourse across the Atlantic. News Corp simply does not merit the benefit of the doubt.

The proposed arrangement also ignores the primary objection to the bid: the power in respect of advertising sales that it will afford News Corp across its range of different media platforms, giving the company a market position that can only be regarded as anti-competitive. At a time when the newspaper industry in particular is experiencing unprecedented pressure on revenues, it could have a catastrophic impact on other publications. Furthermore, News Corp will be able to "bundle" online subscriptions to its newspapers in special offers when BSkyB customers renew their satellite packages – and there would also be scope for intensive cross-promotion of News Corp titles. It all adds up to an advantage for Mr Murdoch's media empire that verges on the monopolistic.

It does not require a conspiracy theorist to detect something fishy about this meeting of minds between News Corp and the Government. In opposition, Mr Hunt enthusiastically praised Mr Murdoch's entrepreneurial skills. David Cameron hired a disgraced former News Corp editor, Andy Coulson, to be his director of communications. And Mr Murdoch's newspapers all threw their weight behind the Conservatives in last year's election. Mr Hunt's agreement to allow News Corp to skip past regulatory hurdles as it accrues still greater market power looks uncomfortably like political payback.

This deal is not yet sealed. The proposals will go out to public consultation until 21 March. This is a time for all those who want to see a diverse, competitive and free-thinking media environment in Britain to make their objections heard. If the Coalition Government is sincere in its commitment to democracy, it ought to take full accountof the public reaction to yesterday's announcement.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Neo-Nazis march in London  

I'm taking my Jewish kids to a vile neo-Nazi rally in London this weekend because I want them to learn about free speech

Richard Ferrer
A police officer carries a casualty to safety  

Tunisia attack proves that we cannot stop terrorists carrying out operations against Britons in Muslim countries

Robert Verkaik
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map