Last Tuesday, former Business Secretary Vince Cable gave the fourth annual Hacked Off Leveson Lecture, the occasion hosted this year by the University of Westminster. His specialist subject was media plurality, a most prescient choice given yesterday’s news that 21st Century Fox had agreed a bid for the 61% of Sky that it does not already own. Rupert Murdoch had returned to claim his prize. But Cable was no longer in power.
It was Cable who referred Murdoch’s previous attempt to effect a takeover of Sky to the competition authorities, and despite the sting performed on him by two Telegraph journalists, along with the machinations of Jeremy Hunt (the former Culture Secretary), the delay was, when the phone hacking scandal finally burst open over the hacking of a dead schoolgirl’s phone, sufficient to derail the Dirty Digger’s takeover express.
Now all is changed. Murdoch has a weak Prime Minister and her equally weak Culture Secretary exactly where he wants them. Theresa May made time during her first Prime Ministerial visit to New York City to dutifully attend the court of Don Rupioni; Karen Bradley employed former Murdoch hack Craig Woodhouse as her Special Advisor. And then came the hobbling of Murdoch’s competition - as if done to order.
The BBC had already had a licence fee settlement imposed upon it which meant cutting back across the board; more recently there has been a ferocious assault on BT, which has forced Sky to pay out far more for sports rights than Murdoch would have wanted, with Sky losing European football rights to them. Last month, Ofcom forced the legal separation of BT from its Openreach division; this month has come the Sky bid.
These are not mere coincidences: as was predicted on Zelo Street last year (see HERE, HERE and HERE), Murdoch viewed Sky as unfinished business, and his vindictive streak meant he would be back to clinch the deal that was denied him the first time, together with a side order of putting the boot into those who had incurred his displeasure. The hobbling of BT was also covered on this blog (see HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE).
That, though, will not be the end of it: as Ian Burrell noted in his piece for The Drum, “Sky News wants to air more argument and opinion, like American news channels”. And observers of Murdoch’s Stateside operations know what that means - moving to bring in programming in the mould of Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse). Sky News are confident that they will not fall foul of Ofcom, and with good reason.
After all, the Murdoch mafiosi have managed to con Ofcom into doing their bidding and hobbling BT. Getting them to look the other way as Sky brings in more of what Jon Stewart called “Opinutainmant” will be a doddle. And unless the competition authorities intervene, this is what will be foisted on the public. Providing, of course, there is no new scandal waiting in the wings, which, with more hacking cases passing through the courts and Mazher Mahmood’s skeleton cupboard facing further scrutiny, there might well be.
Zelo Street has been proved right once again. Here’s hoping for that next scandal.