Rupert Murdoch almost certainly wants to make another bid for the 61% of Sky that he does not yet own, and this time there would be no distractions in the UK. Phone hacking is in the past, the progress of the Leveson recommendations - especially the Inquiry’s second part, the relationship between press and Police - has stalled, and all is as stable as it needs to be. Conditions are right for a second bid.
Or rather, those conditions are right here in Britain. Just as the borderline criminal enterprise that was the late and not at all lamented Screws derailed the first Sky bid, so the continuing revelations surrounding Roger Ailes, recently departed as head man at Fox News Channel, could scupper any new move. Because there in the small print is the possibility that the US authorities may prosecute the Murdoch empire.
But wait, you might caution, that ship has sailed, the case closed. Well, on first inspection of the Guardian’s headline in February last year - “News Corp won't be prosecuted in US in relation to phone hacking … News Corp has been notified it will not face charges in the US in relation to phone hacking and payments to public officials by US authorities” - that looks to be the case. But drill down into the article, and it looks rather different.
The Department of Justice (DoJ) said this at the time: “Based upon the information known to the Justice Department at this time, it has closed its investigation into News Corp regarding possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act concerning bribes allegedly paid for news leads”. But then came the sting in the tail: “If additional information or evidence should be made available in the future, the Department reserves the right to reopen the inquiry”.
Fast forward from last year to yesterday, and the Guardian’s headline “Watchdog threatens legal action against Fox News after hacking allegations … Media Matters has called for an investigation after reports the network ‘illegally’ ordered an inquiry into reporter’s phone records - which some say is common”. And there was more.
MMFA’s Bradley Beychok told the Daily Beast “We know there are allegations of email and phone records being obtained, but do not know precisely how. It’s part of our internal review now … We are not sure of how widespread the issue may be in regards to our employees. However, in addition to Joe Strupp there is at least one other current Media Matters colleague who we have reason to believe also had their phone records obtained”.
A New York magazine article tells how Ailes effectively turned Fox News into a surveillance state, and the potential illegality of much of what he ordered comes back to Murdoch, of whom it is noted “What NBC considered fireable offenses, Murdoch saw as competitive advantages”. The DoJ has plenty of grounds to invoke that inquiry reopening clause. Worse for Murdoch, he does not exercise control over the Federal Government in the way he does in Westminster. The President does not invite him round for a chat.
The next Sky bid may go the same way as the last one. This one will run and run.