This important letter by a distinguished group of peers, academics and other experts, was published in today’s Financial Times. Since the FT has a paywall, we respectfully reproduce it here for the benefit of our followers.
Anybody reading it will be left in little doubt about the potential consequences to the UK news agenda of News Corp succeeding in taking over the whole of BSkyB. And we reiterate our concern about the status quo. While the immediate priority is to prevent the takeover, there can be no doubt that the existing power of News Corporation should be of grave concern in any democracy.
BSkyB takeover will undermine media plurality
The proposed takeover of BSkyB by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation raises deep public interest issues. News Corp already controls 37 per cent of newspaper circulation. BSkyB, one of only two commercial TV news companies in the UK, supplies Sky News, Channel 5 news and virtually all commercial radio news. The merged company would have a reach of 52 per cent of the adult population, with profound consequences not just for media plurality but for our democracy.
The UK needs a range of news providers offering a mix of viewpoints. At the moment, Sky News, which has a central role in shaping the national news agenda, has an independent voice because it has independent directors and a majority of independent shareholders. Mr Murdoch himself has said that the reason Sky News is not yet more like Fox News is because “nobody at Sky listens to me”.
We believe that this independence would be fatally undermined by a News Corp takeover. Of the 175 News Corp newspapers worldwide, every one supported the Iraq war because of the strong editorial control exercised over them. Sky News risks going the same way, with profoundly distorting consequences for the UK’s news agenda.
The new merged company would also be able to “bundle” together television and newspaper services via BSkyB’s huge subscription base in a way that would place severe financial pressures on the rest of the media market. Some newspapers might close, reducing plurality – already in short supply – even further.
All these issues should be of real concern to those interested in the future of UK media and the quality of our democracy. Their potential long-term impact is huge and they need to be carefully scrutinised by the appropriate authorities. We urge the UK secretary of state for culture, media and sport to refer this bid to the Competition Commission for proper examination.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury
Prof. Roy Greenslade, City University
Prof Justin Lewis, Cardiff University
Prof Julian Petley, Chair, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, Professor of Screen Media and Journalism, Brunel University
Dr Damian Tambini, London School of Economics
Prof Natalie Fenton, Professor of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths University
Jeremy Dear, General Secretary, National Union of Journalists
David Babbs, Executive Director, 38 Degrees