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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