The News Corporation takeover of BSkyB is not quite in the bag. News Corp and BSkyB have to sort out the sums. There could be a judicial review that will overturn Hunt’s decision. Further revelations on phone-hacking may yet tip the balance. Who knows? Perhaps Julian Assange will be minded to release some of his “insurance” information on Murdoch.
To be brutally realistic, however, the combined forces of Murdoch, a complicit government and hopeless regulation, do not give one a glow of optimism. So what can be done? Apart from signing the Avaaz petition and letters to MPs, we are all at liberty to respond to Jeremy Hunt’s consultation and tell him the bid should be referred to the Competition Commission, as recommended by Ofcom. We have until 21st March to do so and details are on the DCMS website at www.culture.gov.uk/consultations/7887.aspx
But there is a more fundamental issue here, which is the reason we started DemocracyFail, and we apologise to those of you have have read this many times before. The unacceptable concentration of media ownership in Britain, is symptomatic of the complete inadequacy of our rules and regulations. They are not fit for purpose in a democracy.
Hunt himself concedes there is a weakness in the fact that a plurality intervention can only take place once a transaction is in progress. He claims his new Commnications Act will help to deal with that problem, but that is not due to come into place until 2015. By then, if the takeover goes ahead, BSkyB will be well and truly ruling the waves. And will the Act be truly fair, or another means by which a Conservative-led government pushes through an agenda of further privatisation?
In the short term, therefore, we must take all means to prevent the takeover. But, in the longer term, we need to independently analyse, assess and propose the way ahead. The way to do this is through the appointment of a Media Commission.
As Granville Williams of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom wrote yesterday:
“The future of the media cannot be decided in deals hammered out behind closed doors. Our media and democracy deserve more. There has to be a better way. It is time there was a major review of media ownership and regulation. The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom supports the idea of Media Commission which would ensure the widest public and consultation in the development of media policies.”