Leading article: Two News Corps don't make a right

 

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Rupert Murdoch might, if he chose to, explain his consideration of plans to split News Corp into two as a matter of straightforward financial sense. After all, the media giant's entertainment division accounts for the overwhelming majority of its profits, and shareholders have long wanted it to be shot of the smaller, weaker, and infinitely more troublesome, publishing business.

A simple matter of pleasing the investors, then? Perhaps. More likely, though, is that Mr Murdoch is manoeuvring to relaunch his bid for BSkyB, once News Corp's existing stake in the satellite TV company is safely ensconced in an entirely separate company to its hacking-tainted newspapers.

Ostensibly, it was the furore surrounding the revelation that Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked, and the subsequent shock closure of the News of the World, that put paid to Mr Murdoch's first, abortive attempt to take over all of BSkyB. At a time when a cross-party parliamentary vote was set to call on News Corp to abandon its bid, and the Prime Minister was about to announce the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics, the probability of the deal clearing the already challenging regulatory hurdles had dwindled to nothing.

But the bigger headache in the long term is the media regulator's investigation into whether News Corp can still be considered "fit and proper" to hold a broadcast licence. Mr Murdoch has long resisted investors' calls for his empire to be broken into several, nimbler parts. A capitulation now looks like an attempt both to wdraw a line around News Corp's existing 39 per cent of BSkyB – for the benefit of Ofcom's current deliberations – and, if successful, pave the way for another takeover bid in the future.

It will take more than a change of corporate nameplates to alter the fundamentals, however. So long as the Murdoch family retains control, then tweaks to corporate structure count for little beside the testimony of the former Times editor who resigned over his proprietor's editorial meddling. The lesson from Harold Evans's experiences is clear: beware.

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