The recent attempts by James Murdoch to wrest the steering wheel of the family juggernaut away from his father may not have been totally successful, and as a result his dream of getting his hands on the 61% of Sky that the mafiosi does not yet own have been thrown into jeopardy. Once again, the problem for him and his family is the continued bad behaviour at Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse).
FNC recently removed its founder, Roger Ailes, as a result of a slew of allegations about his conduct, which were kicked off by former host Gretchen Carlson. Then came the turn of top-rated host Bill O’Reilly, who was also sent down the road for his own particular lapses. And more recently, professional loudmouth Sean Hannity has seen complaints about his past deeds accompanied by a flight of advertisers.
So after culture secretary Karen Bradley decided to refer the Sky bid not merely on the grounds of media plurality, but also broadcasting standards, one might have thought that the Murdoch mafiosi might stop and think. After all, it is no longer just people like campaigning group Hacked Off who are on their case: Avaaz and 38 Degrees are also involved, as is the formidable presence of Media Matters for America.
But that thought would have been misplaced: Rupert Murdoch didn’t get where he is today by giving a flying foxtrot about what anyone else thinks of his empire’s modus operandi. Despite the eyes of the UK competition authorities, the culture secretary, the DCMS select committee, and a whole host of lobby and campaign groups being trained on his every move, Rupe has once again stuck two fingers up at the lot of them.
Not only is Hannity returning to his former 9pm weekdays Eastern slot on FNC - effectively a promotion - he very publicly welcomed supposedly “disgraced” former host O’Reilly as a guest yesterday evening. Bill-O is described as an “author” in the press release, but as he only left the broadcaster a matter of months ago, viewers will be familiar with him as the bloke who hosted the show that for so many years fed into Hannity’s hour.
Campaign group Sleeping Giants, who have been in the vanguard of persuading advertisers to pull their backing from shows like Hannity’s, observed “TONIGHT ON HANNITY: Man who we fired for sexually harassing women on our staff comes back to show you we never really cared about it anyway!” And MMFA was on the case.
MMFA person Lis Power observed “Fox touting Hannity's O'Reilly interview is telling ... It tells us the network didn't really ever care about fixing its ugly culture”. FNC had been trailing Bill-O’s appearance for some days. Her colleague Laura Keiter joined the dots to the Sky Bid: “O’Reilly‘s Fox News appearance risks seeding doubt among U.K. authorities reviewing Sky bid”. And CNN’s Brian Stelter pointed out who was responsible.
“So Rupert signed off on O'Reilly appearing on Hannity's show, months after forcing him out of Fox?” he observed. Rupert Murdoch has taken personal charge of FNC. He cannot evade responsibility for O’Reilly’s invitation. And it must count against the Sky bid.
Rupe has driven another nail into the coffin of his own ambitions. Sad, really.