Rupert Murdoch’s proposed Sky takeover reaches endgame – The Guardian (blog)

MPs return from their summer breaks next week and one of the first issues on the agenda will be 21st Century Fox’s proposed takeover of Sky.

A quick recap: before recess in June, Karen Bradley, the culture secretary, revealed the findings of Ofcom’s report into the deal and her initial view on whether it should go ahead.

There were effectively three parts to Ofcom’s work – a look at the deal’s impact on media plurality and broadcasting standards, and a separate report on whether the Murdochs, who control Fox, were fit and proper owners of Sky.

On the basis of Ofcom’s findings, Bradley said she was minded to refer the deal for a full investigation to the Competition and Markets Authority on media plurality but not on broadcasting standards.

When Bradley made this statement on 29 June it was expected that she would confirm her decision before parliament broke up for summer. When that didn’t happen she was expected to make an announcement during the summer, but that did not happen either.

The reason for this delay is that Ofcom and the government were overwhelmed with the volume of people expressing their views on the deal after Bradley’s announcement – with some of these new submissions raising issues that the culture secretary subsequently asked Ofcom to examine.

During this period there have also been significant developments regarding the deal. Fox News has been accused of colluding with the White House regarding a discredited story that a murdered Democrat aide was the source of leaked emails, and then last week it was announced that Fox News will no longer be broadcast in the UK, apparently for commercial reasons.

All this means that Bradley’s statement on her final decision is eagerly anticipated. It could be made as early as this week.

The most likely outcome is still that she stands by her original view to refer the deal to the CMA on the grounds of media plurality but not broadcasting standards. However, campaign group Avaaz and a group of high-profile MPs led by Ed Miliband and Vince Cable have made a compelling and powerful argument that it should also be referred on broadcasting standards due to the scandals at Fox News and the potential for the Murdochs to “Foxify” Sky News by giving it a rightwing slant.

Avaaz and the MPs have threatened legal action if Bradley doesn’t do this. They claim Ofcom’s fit-and-proper test was flawed and that it did not use the correct legal threshold when considering the deal in regard to broadcasting standards, thereby making it less likely that the deal would be referred.

It is difficult to establish how much weight this argument has with Bradley. Her Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has remained tightlipped during the process and insiders on both sides of the House of Commons say Bradley is determined to do things by the book when considering the deal. This means the fact she asked Ofcom to do more work on the deal does not necessarily mean she is leaning towards a referral on broadcasting standards. Instead, it could be that she justs wants to be seen as dealing with the submissions by Avaaz and the MPs seriously.

Nonetheless, the Murdochs appear to be increasingly concerned about the takeover, judging by the firm wording of their statements and the decision to pull Fox News from the UK.

One of their main complaints has been how long the process is taking and it must be said there are no winners apart from the government in dragging this out. The government is a potential winner because the delays may dampen anger about the deal or even force the Murdochs to walk away from the takeover – which would make the issue disappear entirely – but it is not ideal for Sky, a company with thousands of employees whose future is uncertain.

The Murdochs’ bid for Sky was revealed last December and a CMA investigation will last six months once Bradley gives the go-ahead. That means it will have taken well over a year for the deal to be resolved either way.

The main reason for it taking so longer is the government’s insistence on a two-pronged inquiry featuring Ofcom first and then the CMA if called upon. But is the CMA really better qualified than Ofcom, the media regulator, to make a judgment on media plurality and broadcasting standards? How will the CMA, effectively a consumer body, make judgments about how people get their news and analyse a market that includes a dominant public sector organisation in the BBC?

The CMA is used to assessing whether takeovers will distort markets so that consumers are worse off either through a drop in quality or higher prices. But the concerns around the Fox/Sky deal are so sector-specific – ie will it lead to one family having too much control of news coverage – that the media regulator is surely better placed than the competition watchdog to offer recommendations to the government.

If the CMA is called upon, as seems likely, it will be fascinating to see the panel it puts in place to examine the deal and how it goes about it. It will be effectively starting from scratch and, as Bradley has already intimated, it could simply wave the deal through without demanding any concessions from the Murdochs.

After waiting all summer to discover whether it will be called upon, the CMA is close to discovering whether it will be invited to offer the decisive verdict on this long-running saga.

Diversity

British actor Ed Skrein



British actor Ed Skrein left the upcoming reboot of Hellboy after his casting sparked claims of whitewashing. Photograph: PA

Hollywood has a problem with diversity but so does the British film and TV industry. Last week, British actor Ed Skrein pulled out of his role in a forthcoming film reboot of Hellboy because the character he was playing has an Asian heritage while actor Chloe Bennet revealed she changed her name from Chloe Wang because Hollywood is “racist”.

But while Hollywood has issues, so too British broadcasting. There is frustration that the much-hyped Project Diamond, which was supported by all the broadcasters and designed to monitor diversity in the industry, may have underplayed the problems in British broadcasting.

It found that 21.5% of on-screen workers have a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background and 10.1% of off-screen workers do. This compares with 13% of the UK population with a BAME background.

However, critics of the report claim that the reality is worse than this and that the survey was distorted by just 24% of the industry actually taking part.

Diamond was supposed to help improve diversity in broadcasting but at the moment it is just creating more divisions.

Local newspapers

The Oldham Evening Chronicle



The Chronicle has been published for more than 160 years but will disappear unless the administrators can find a buyer to rescue it. Photograph: HANDOUT

One of the least-vaunted policies in Labour’s manifesto for the 2017 general election was a plan to launch a national review into the demise of local media. However, the closure of the Oldham Evening Chronicle last week shows how important this could be.

The Chronicle has been published for more than 160 years but will disappear unless the administrators can find a buyer to rescue it.

The manifesto said Labour was concerned about the closure of local newspapers and broadcasters and that they are “an important part of our democracy and culture”. As the Grenfell Tower fire showed, the lack of a powerful local voice can have a devastating impact.

The government should follow Labour’s proposal and launch a review immediately.

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