Culture Secretary Karen Bradley has today bowed to the inevitable and referred the bid by the Murdoch mafiosi for the 61% of Sky that they do not yet own to the Competition and Markets Authority. To the surprise of some in the media arena, the referral is on two grounds: not only for media plurality - the Murdochs already own a significant part of the national newspaper market - but also on the grounds of broadcasting standards.
As the Guardian has reported, “A referral on the grounds of media plurality had been expected, but the prospect of a referral on broadcasting standards is a surprise and will frustrate the Murdochs … Bradley’s announcement contradicts recommendations from Ofcom, the media regulator. It said there were grounds for an investigation on media plurality … but the evidence available did not justify a broadcasting standards investigation”. Well, maybe Ofcom’s evidence didn’t, but others have chipped in.
The Government has been made well aware of a series of failures concerning Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse), where former head man Roger Ailes, top-rated host Bill O’Reilly, and more recently host Eric Bolling have all been sent down the road. FNC also has complaints against breakfast show Fox and Friends co-host Steve Doocy, and professional loudmouth Sean Hannity, still outstanding.
This awareness has been highlighted to Ofcom and the Government by groups such as Media Matters For America, Avaaz, 38 Degrees and of course the doggedly persistent people at Hacked Off, for whom Evan Harris has told “This investigation will only be worthwhile if the corporate governance record of the Murdochs is fully examined … The CMA must be required to investigate the Murdochs’ corporate governance record in newspapers in full”. Hacked Off director Jacqui Hames has also had something to say.
“If the Government was serious about investigating the corporate governance record of the Murdochs they would have allowed the Leveson Inquiry to be completed by now, but they are blocking it. An investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority is no substitute for a judge-led inquiry which looks into police corruption and corporate cover-ups”.
The pressure for Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry can only increase as a result, another reason for the press establishment to keep schtum and hope it all goes away if they don’t report it (honourable mentions for at least covering the story go not only to Press Gazette, but also London freesheet City AM). But there will be unhappiness for some out there.
Look for those - hello Tim Montgomerie - who will protest that Sky can’t be referred on broadcasting standards grounds as its football coverage is so wonderful. Others hoping for Don Rupioni to throw them a biscuit will whine that anyone saying the Murdoch empire is less than totally wonderful wants to censor freedom of speech.
But one thought will not enter for those seeking to ingratiate themselves with the Murdoch mafiosi: the inmates of the Baby Shard bunker can hardly switch political allegiance as a result of Ms Bradley’s referral. That would mean siding with Jeremy Corbyn, and they could never be seen to do that. They’re stuck with the Tories. And the Tories know it.
The referral will take at least six months. Just think how much time that gives for someone to find a few more skeletons in the Murdoch cupboard. More to come on this one.