Sometimes, when all seems lost, the law enforcement authorities ride to the rescue. For those ready to accept the apparently inevitable, and see Rupert Murdoch take control of the 61% of Sky that he does not presently own, the twist is that those coming into view over the cinematic horizon are the law enforcement authorities in the USA, and the prospect of their derailing the Sky bid are all too real.
Murdoch’s main UK print cheerleader, his Sun newspaper, was such a part of the campaign for a Leave vote in last year’s EU membership referendum that it registered as a campaigning body. Having secured the Leave victory, Sterling depreciated substantially - which made Rupe’s Sky bid billions of US Dollars cheaper, an interesting coincidence.
Moreover, in Karen Bradley, Murdoch had a minister who was both out of her depth and easily controlled - especially after former Sun hack Craig Woodhouse was installed as her SpAd. At the end of last year, all looked pretty bad for those opposed to the Sky takeover. But now has come news that the FBI has been investigating Rupe’s business empire in the USA, and specifically Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).
As NPR’s David Folkenflik has told, “Attorney for suspended [FNC] host Andrea Tantaros said in court there was ‘compelling evidence’ Fox conducted electronic surveillance [against] her … The allegations that Fox News would have had Tantaros' private email/phones hacked raise troubling echoes of News Corp UK tabloid scandal”. Not only that, but phone and email hacking is seriously illegal in the USA.
The court case Folkenflik has been following continues. There is also the matter of enquiries being made by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), as he also notes: “Securities inquiry appears to focus on payments made by Fox News to women who accused [former] Fox News chairman Ailes of sexual harassment … This would likely involve whether payments prior to Gretchen Carlson's $20M last summer were masked as pay to skirt SEC disclosure rules”. That’s a side order on the Murdoch menu.
Gabriel Sherman of New York Magazine has confirmed “Two sources briefed on Fox News investigation say FBI agents have been investigating Fox News for ‘months’” and has echoed Folkenflik’s analysis: “If Ailes and/or Fox News under federal investigation, then it's sign that Fox sex scandal could be US version of Murdoch's hacking scandal”. The ultimate twist? The Murdoch empire is alleged to have Sherman’s phone records, too.
All of this impacts on the “fit and proper person test” that should be applied to any of the Murdoch mafiosi involved in the Sky bid. And that’s before noting three more mildly inconvenient UK items: One, ongoing phone hacking claims against the Sun, Two, the investigation into Mazher Mahmood’s back catalogue of stings and entrapments, and Three, the Daniel Morgan panel investigation, which should report later this year.
The potential for corrupt and manipulative behaviour by the Murdoch empire never went away. It just moved out of sight for a little while. Now it’s come back into view, and Government bodies on both sides of the North Atlantic have no excuse to ignore it.
The age of the Murdoch mafiosi was for a time - but not for all time.