Evidence against Murdoch bid for Sky is growing
The Guardian, by Ed Miliband
Ed Miliband has claimed that evidence against the Murdochs being allowed to take full control of Sky is growing, and there is an “overwhelming” case for the government to launch a full investigation into how the proposed deal would affect broadcasting standards in the UK.
In an article for the Guardian, the former Labour leader also claimed that Ofcom’s report into the deal was “riddled with errors”.
Karen Bradley, the culture secretary, is expected to announce as early as next week whether the government will refer 21st Century Fox’s £11.7bn bid for Sky to the Competition and Markets Authority for a six-month investigation.
Bradley has already said she is minded to refer the deal on the grounds of media plurality, after Ofcom raised concerns about how dominant it could make the Murdochs in public life. Fox is controlled by Rupert Murdoch and his sons James and Lachlan.
However, the culture secretary also said she was minded not to refer the deal on the grounds of broadcasting standards, after an Ofcom report said the Murdochs were fit and proper owners of Sky.
But Miliband said the deal should be referred on the grounds of broadcasting standards because of the risk that the Murdochs could push through the “Foxification” of Sky News, meaning it would broadcast news with the same rightwing slant as Fox News in the US.
“Fox News has played a major role in polluting the well of public conversation in the US, stirring division and hatred,” Miliband writes.
“The case for referral is overwhelming, based on the record of Fox News as well as the total failure of corporate governance in the Murdoch empire revealed by what happened at the News of the World and at Fox. The secretary of state must have a proper inquiry into these dangers. If she does not and we end up with Sky becoming more like Fox, it will be her responsibility.”
Fox News has become increasingly troublesome for the Murdochs as they attempt to buy Sky, and it was announced this week that the channel will no longer be broadcast in the UK for “commercial reasons”.
Fox News is embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal that led to a string of high-profile figures leaving, including the chairman Roger Ailes, who has since died, and leading presenter Bill O’Reilly. It has also been accused, a claim it denies, of colluding with Donald Trump’s White House on a discredited story about a murdered Democratic activist, which critics of the Murdochs have compared to the News of the World hacking the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
Miliband said: “Quite simply, the fear of the Murdochs is that the scandals at Fox News could in 2017 sink their bid for Sky, just as the scandals at the News of the World did in 2011.”
Fox has pledged to continue broadcasting news under the Sky News brand and James Murdoch said earlier this year that he was “particularly proud” of its track record.
A spokesperson for Fox said: “Ofcom, the independent media regulator, has conducted a thorough review and has reached unequivocal conclusions about 21st Century Fox’s genuine commitment to broadcasting standards.
“21st Century Fox has been a licensed broadcaster for over 20 years in the UK and continues to hold a number of licences including for its National Geographic, Star and Fox Networks Group channels.
“As the founding shareholder of Sky, 21st Century Fox has believed in Sky for over 25 years and is proud of the journalistic tradition of Sky News, which has been one of the great innovators.”
Miliband said Ofcom could face legal action if it does not reopen its investigation into the deal. He accused the regulator of making errors, firstly by claiming that all the racial and sexual harassment at Fox News took place before 2012, and therefore before new governance arrangements were introduced at the Murdochs’ companies on the back of the phone-hacking scandal; and secondly, by not following up its own damning report on James Murdoch’s failings during the hacking scandal.
“This decision and the way it is handled is Ofcom’s biggest test,” Milliband said. “The right thing to do is to admit its errors and re-open the fit and proper investigation. If it does not, it will likely, and rightly, face legal challenge.”
In response, an Ofcom spokesperson said: “Ofcom’s duty to be satisfied that all licensees are fit and proper is ongoing, and we continue to monitor and assess all relevant developments. As the independent broadcast regulator, all our decisions are impartial and evidence-based.”