Rupert Murdoch wants to control the news. Ofcom must stand up for media freedom

No one man should be this powerful


Rupert Murdoch’s appetite for media outlets resembles that of Wile E Coyote for a tasty Roadrunner.

And if the dirty digger is thwarted in his efforts – say, by a hacking scandal that closes one of his newspapers and lands an editor in jail – he’s nothing if not persistent.

Murdoch already owns a huge chunk of the UK media across several platforms, and would therefore be a threat to media freedom even without the criminal behaviour of his underlings.

His renewed lunge for total control of Sky, handing him the 61 per cent he doesn’t already own, would swallow up yet more of the market share for his particular brand of newsfotainment.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley’s decision today to refer the proposed 21st Century Fox/Sky merger to broadcast regulator Ofcom ought never to have been in doubt.

But given the intimate relations between the British political class and especially this government, the stench of corruption had to be overcome by a sustained campaign by Britain’s trade unions.

In a letter to Bradley on March 8 after her call for representations on the proposed merger, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) made the case for referall to Ofcom, arguing further media concentration, especially in the hands of a dodgy corporation, is not in the public interest.

The NUJ has also been working with the Trades Union Congress and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) to lobby the EU Commission’s probe of the deal.

In a statement today, released ahead of Bradley’s decision, NUJ acting General Secretary Seamus Dooley said:

The need for media plurality is recognised in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and in that context the European Commission has a direct role in examining the proposed merger. […]

We must ensure that at national and European levels every effort is made to halt the onward march of the Murdochs.”

If this sounds a bit grand, consider the stakes. If Murdoch gets his way, the 21st Century Fox corporation would, in the words of the NUJ letter, ‘directly control the dominant commercial news producers in the UK across television, radio and print’.

Here’s some more evidence from its statement today:

Sky and NewsCorp are already the biggest commercial news producers in the UK. Sky News Radio is the main news supplier to more than 280 commercial stations.

Sky’s only real competitor in radio news production is the BBC. In television, there are now only two UK-based 24-hour TV news channels – Sky News and the BBC News Channel.”

The proposed merger would make Murdoch’s company Britain’s largest newspaper provider, and bring together Britain’s monopoly satellite platform and its largest broadcaster by revenue.

This would hand Murdoch an unprecedented amount of power, and for this reason alone would be a scandal regardless of the man’s policies, business interests or indirect criminal practices.

One hopes the Ofcom probe makes the right call based on the evidence, given the regulator’s sometimes odd rulings. But might it not be time to review our monopoly laws, so that no company can dominate any industry and make nonsense of the idea of a ‘free market’?

Reducing the maximum percentage market share would force Murdoch to break up and sell of his media empire, creating space for new outlets and easing the pressure on existing ones. This might have more impact than continued calls for press regulation by a government-backed committee.

In the meantime, we might reflect on the words of IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger, ahead of Bradley’s decision:

Media plurality is a cornerstone of democracy. Without it, all the talk of a free and independent media is nothing but empty words.”

Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13 

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2 Responses to “Rupert Murdoch wants to control the news. Ofcom must stand up for media freedom”

  1. David Lindsay

    The Sun is The Bloody Rag of Hillsborough, and the persecutor of my friend (yes, still my friend), Tom Watson. The Times employs Oliver Kamm, the tormentor of my friend, Neil Clark. But try as I might to work myself up about Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to purchase the rest of Sky, I cannot bring myself to do so. What would such an acquisition make any worse?

    The BBC gives little or no platform to those who understand the lesson of the EU referendum result in the United Kingdom, and of the election of Donald Trump in the United States, which is that the workers, and not the liberal bourgeoisie, are the key swing voters. The BBC gives little or no platform to those who locate identity issues within the overarching and undergirding context of the struggle against economic inequality and in favour of international peace. The BBC gives little or no platform to those who welcome the fact that the EU referendum was decided by those areas which voted Leave while voting Labour, Liberal Democrat or Plaid Cymru for other purposes, and which have thus made themselves the centre of political attention, except, of course, on the BBC.

    The BBC gives little or no platform to those who celebrate the leading role in the defence of universal public services of those who would otherwise lack basic amenities, and the leading role in the promotion of peace of those who would be the first to be called upon to die in wars. The BBC gives little or no platform to those who have opposed from the start the failed programme of economic austerity. The BBC gives little or no platform to those who opposed Tony Blair’s privatisation of the NHS and other public services, his persecution of the disabled, and his assault on civil liberties, all of which have continued under every subsequent Government.

    The BBC gives little or no platform to those who have opposed every British military intervention since 1997. The BBC gives little or no platform to those who oppose Britain’s immoral and one-sided relationship with Saudi Arabia, and who reject the demonisation of Russia. The BBC gives little or no platform to those who have the real eyes to realise real lies, recognising that the truly fake news is propagated in support of the economic policies of neoliberal austerity and the foreign policies of neoconservative war.

    The BBC gives little or no platform to those who reject any approach to climate change which would threaten existing or potential jobs, workers’ rights, the right to have children, travel opportunities, or universal access to a full diet. The BBC gives little or no platform to those who seek to rescue issues such as male suicide, men’s health, and fathers’ rights from those whose economic and other policies have caused the problems. And the BBC gives little or no platform to those who refuse to recognise racists, Fascists or opportunists as the authentic voices of the accepted need to control immigration.

    Over-concentrated media ownership, especially by a foreign national who is not based in this country, is inherently problematic. But in the very great scheme that is these things, the biggest problem is not Rupert Murdoch. He already owns a lot of Sky, on which the much-maligned RT does indeed provide these platforms. He now also owns talkRADIO, on which they are provided by the much-maligned George Galloway, whom Murdoch has not sacked, and who is a friend and comrade of mine and of Neil Clark’s. As the proprietor of the whole of Sky, Murdoch might even do some good.

  2. ted francis

    And after Sky what next? Channel 4? And with the BBC swinging Right under a spineless DG that’ll be it, game set and match to the Dirty Digger and his Tory lick-spittles.

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