It looked uncharacteristically brave of culture secretary Karen Bradley as soon as the news got out: the bid by the Murdoch mafiosi for the 61% of Sky that they do not yet own being referred on two grounds, media plurality and broadcasting standards. How brave Ms Bradley had been was underscored yesterday when James Murdoch spoke to the Royal Television Society convention in Cambridge.
Murdoch Junior was not a happy bunny, and nor had he succeeded in the search for his elusive sense of self-awareness. He wanted the Sky bid green-lighted, and he wanted it to happen yesterday, if not sooner. For him, the thought that recent scandals at Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse), which has been under the direct control of his father since the exit of founder Roger Ailes, might be a factor was not allowed to enter.
Instead, as is his usual style, Murdoch Junior resorted to threats, saying “he was looking forward to going through the regulatory process on the deal if the UK ‘truly is open for business’, and defended his track record as chief executive and chairman of Sky, saying that ‘has to count for something’”. So has his role in the phone hacking scandal, which ended up with him resigning his post and a previous Sky bid being abandoned.
There was more, as the Guardian has reported. “In comments that will be interpreted as a warning to the government, Murdoch said: ‘There is a huge opportunity for companies and countries willing to act decisively and capitalise on the economic and social benefit that this industry can create. Inward investment in the UK creative economy and the positive signal it sends to companies around the world is more important than ever as the UK prepares to chart its course outside the EU’”. He wasn’t finished.
“Indeed, the soft power of the UK’s creative identity is going to be a big part of that story. So if the UK truly is open for business post-Brexit, we look forward to moving through the regulatory review process, and this transformational transaction for the UK creative sector becoming an affirmation of that claim”, he claimed before complaining that “the government was refusing to meet him”. There’s a change for you.
But what Murdoch Junior’s protests reveal is that the behind the scenes work by Avaaz, Media Matters For America, 38 Degrees and Hacked Off has been more than effective, and Karen Bradley’s separation from her former SpAd, Sun man Craig Woodhouse, has only added to the loss of control exercised by the inmates of the Baby Shard bunker.
Worse for the Murdochs, Theresa May now has her hands full with Brexit and keeping the Tory hard-liners at bay. In any case, the Sun didn’t get her over the win line in the General Election, with more than half the paper’s readers not bothering to vote. So James Murdoch is reduced to threatening to take his bat home if the Sky bid is not cleared.
Exactly what that means is not told. But the reality is that the Murdoch press played for this to happen: their shock troops at the Sun obsessively backed Brexit, Sterling collapsed after the referendum result, and in they came for what they thought would be a bargain basement acquisition. Now they are demanding to be allowed to cash in on their cynical and selfish behaviour. It is a credit to Ms Bradley that she is at last standing her ground.
The Sky bid could yet be derailed. Just rejoice at that news.