The mess surrounding News Corp’s proposed BSkyB takeover is evidence, once again, of the inadequacy of British media ownership regulation. Vince Cable, the Lib Dem business secretary who opposed the takeover has put his foot in it and been removed from the case. Tory culture secretary and Murdoch fan, Jeremy Hunt, will be the one to decide whether, after Ofcom’s review, the bid should be referred to the Competition Commission. It behoves everyone who values democracy to campaign fiercely with 38 Degrees against the takeover and to put all conceivable pressure on Hunt to refer the bid.
However, one of the most worrying aspects of Cable’s indiscretions, is that it could give News Corp grounds to appeal against his original decision to refer the bid to Ofcom for review. According to James Robinson in today’s Guardian, “Cable’s gaffe could make it easier for News Corp to mount a legal challenge, whatever the culture secretary decides.” It would seem, therefore, that legal technicalities are as much an obstacle to media plurality as political ideology.
This demonstrates yet again the need for a very fundamental review of all the rules and laws concerning media ownership, competition and regulation. This is why we have been arguing all along for the appointment of a media commission to make a thorough assessment of the situation and future trends in a fast changing world. It’s time to stop rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic of media democracy. We need to build another ship.
Another reason to beware
Just a few days ago, BBC director general, Mark Thompson, while addressing a seminar on impartiality, said that Murdoch had told him he “would like Sky News to go down a polemical ‘Fox-style’ route – but that the editors of the channel had brushed off his wishes. ”
Under total control of News Corp, Sky News would not be able to brush off the wishes of its masters. It would, however, be obliged to follow the impartiality rules currently governing British broadcasting. But, as we all know, your impartiality isn’t always my impartiality and, even in its present state, many people question the balance on Sky. Moreover, with the way things are going, and their unease about the BBC, it looks very much as if this government would be prepared to lift the present impartiality rules and allow a virtual commercial takeover of television. This would be a mutually convenient state of affairs for the Conservatives and the business elite but a very bad one for democracy.
However, there is a silver lining under the current cloud. Now that the debate about BSkyB has become more widely aired, it does present an opportunity to argue the case for a clean sweep on media ownership.
Sign the new 38 Degrees petition to stop the Sky takeover: Jeremy Hunt is not impartial: http://bit.ly/dTizBv