With the Murdoch mafiosi looking to progress their acquisition of the 61% of Sky that they do not yet own, the bid is set to be notified to the European competition regulator, which would clear another hurdle and put pressure on Culture Secretary Karen Bradley to take the kind of decision for which she is less than renowned - whether to refer the bid to Ofcom. So the charm offensive from 21st Century Fox has begun.
Well, inasmuch as the Murdochs can muster any charm, that is: James Murdoch has taken the opportunity to pretend that he gives a damn about UK broadcasters that are not under the control of his family: “[he] said the BBC and Channel 4 played an important role in a ‘balanced creative economy’ in the UK, while he suggested Sky would do better if it became part of Fox because all media companies faced ‘fresh rivals every day’”.
That last part makes no sense, but when you’re on PR bullshit autopilot, is one of those inevitabilities. What Murdoch Junior said next was also total crap: “Becoming part of Fox ‘ensures the Sky business can compete’ with this ‘competitor set’ that is ‘fundamentally more global’, Murdoch said”. Why this makes little sense is not hard to see.
Sky is Britain’s largest broadcaster by income. Bigger than the Beeb, and well ahead of ITV and Channel 4. Murdoch Junior is excuse making, trowelling on the management speak, generating a fog of misinformation to obscure what is really going on, and this can be put directly: for the Murdochs, securing 100% of the profits generated by Sky means More And Bigger Paycheques For Themselves Personally Now.
But not everyone agrees that letting the Murdoch clan get their hands on 100% of Sky is a particularly good thing: “campaigners at the Media Reform Coalition and online activist network Avaaz argue that the overall market shares of both Murdoch-owned newspapers the Sun and the Times as well as Sky remain ‘materially unchanged’ since 2011, when media regulator Ofcom raised concerns about a similar takeover”.
And then, with the kind of timing that may not have been entirely coincidental, came an intervention from former PM Gordon Brown. It was not the first. It may not be the last. And it brings back all the Murdochs’ worst nightmares: having to tackle the joint spectres not just of phone hacking, but potential email interception, blagging, unauthorised access to confidential material, “sting” operations, and one very well known murder.
What is also notable is that, although the BBC has reported Pa Broon’s intervention, so far no member of our free and fearless press has deemed the matter newsworthy. Why that should be I leave to readers to draw their own conclusions.
Here is what Brown had to say: “There are so many unanswered questions about what the Murdoch News International group did… blagging, impersonation, email interception, breaches under the law itself... that unless there is a full and proper inquiry we'll never be able to clear the air … And we'll always have suspicions about how the media was acting for a whole decade at the start of the 21st century”. Anything specific, perhaps?
“We have the evidence that people like me have that I was impersonated, that my bank account was broken into, that my lawyer's office was besieged by calls impersonating me from the Murdoch newspapers. These are all things that happened and have not been properly accounted for by the Murdoch empire”. And that was just his experience.
Brown added “All the major instances of abuse that merit inquiry in recent years have come out of the Murdoch press. We have the fake Sheikh, we have the telephone hacking, we have issues about email hacking … Most of them resolve at least in the main around the Murdoch media and that's where the inquiry has got to start”.
Readers should take note that Pa Broon stressed “in the main around the Murdoch media”. That means although the Murdoch empire may have been the worst offender, it was not alone. For instance, when the Information Commissioner had Private Investigator Steve Whittamore busted in March 2003, it was the Mail titles that occupied top slot in his chart of information requests - most of which could only be fulfilled by breaking the law.
Brown also cast doubt on whether it could be concluded that the Murdochs passed the “fit and proper person” test unless and until Leveson Part 2 had been completed: “Before you make a decision about the ownership of a very important media organisation, you should know all the facts … Because we haven't had Leveson Two there is always going to be doubt as to whether we know what is happening in this organisation, whether we know whether there are fit and proper people governing this organisation”.
The Government gives every indication that it wants to punt Leveson 2 into the long grass, if not cancel it. But Pa Broon’s latest intervention shows that there are still issues around press behaviour that need to be resolved. The only people consistently against Part 2 of Leveson are the press - the ones who stand to lose from the exposure.
Their contention has always been that there is nothing more to see. But, as Brown mentions, there is the Daniel Morgan Panel Inquiry set to report later this year, the possibility that several convictions resulting from “fake sheikh” Mazher Mahmood’s sting operations will be deemed unsafe, the question of email interception, more phone hacking cases involving the Murdoch Sun - and possibly other papers - and the continuing use of blagging, bribery, and other illegal methods of information gathering.
It would only take one more revelation about the press’ misbehaviour to upset their defence against Leveson Part 2 going ahead. And what Gordon Brown has not said, but I will, is that another major revelation of illegal behaviour by our free and fearless press is not only possible, but highly likely - and, what is more, imminent.
What Brown has said is not the last word on this matter. And the Sky bid may not survive future revelations unscathed. I will have more on this one later.