Rupert Murdoch wields enormous power through his global network of media companies, particularly in Australia, the US and the UK. Heâs adept at leveraging commercial dominance to win political influence, which leads to the removal of legislative or regulatory barriers to further expansion. Itâs a tested formula, but itâs hard to discern how the rest of us benefit. What a pleasant surprise it would be to see his ceaseless expansion thwarted. Iâm not holding my breath.
The culture secretaryâs statement that sheâs minded to refer Foxâs bid for Sky to the Competition and Markets Authority is no surprise. But Theresa Mayâs secret meeting with Murdoch in New York last year makes me worry we are about to see another Murdoch stitch-up that Karen Bradley may be powerless to stop. The pattern of behaviour has become familiar. A Murdoch company offers concessions â in this case guaranteeing the autonomy of Sky News by creating a separate editorial board; the government insists they donât go far enough; the company returns with another proposal; the government waves the deal through.
That canât be allowed to happen this time. The Competition and Markets Authority must conduct a thorough review of the proposed Fox takeover, taking all the time it needs to assess its likely impact on the provision of news and entertainment in the UK. The deal would make the UKâs dominant media company â which has a near 35% share of the newspaper market â more dominant still.
Murdochâs political views are well known. But this is not about politics, it is about market power. A dynamic and vibrant news market works best when there is a multitude of providers and a large number of owners.
If the Tories wonât act on this, Labour will. We will review media ownership rules in the UK to make it clear that no individual or company should dominate. It may be that we should also consider if itâs fair that owners who arenât UK citizens â or pay little or no tax here â should be given such a powerful voice in our democracy.
We have seen how much power dominant media proprietors can wield. Politicians who might act to curb their influence are reluctant to do so because they fear the consequences. Proximity to power and the ability to shape it changes corporate culture and executives and employees are emboldened. That led to criminality at the News of the World, which we now know engaged in systemic and widespread illegal activities including phone hacking. The full extent of the paperâs corrupt relationship with senior police officers wonât emerge unless the government initiates the second part of the Leveson inquiry.
At Fox News, a bullying culture seems to have enabled senior executives to abuse their positions and resulted in a raft of sexual harassment cases â at a combined cost to the company of millions of dollars. In both cases, the most senior executive at News Corp at the time was Rupert Murdochâs youngest son James, who was censured by regulators and MPs over his conduct in the phone-hacking affair and is currently CEO of 21st Century Fox and chairman of Sky.
James Murdoch is named in a number of civil cases that allege phone hacking and âblaggingâ took place at the Sun. He is likely to take the stand as early as September to answer allegations that senior executives ordered the deletion of emails that could have proved the veracity of the claims against the newspaper.
The prime minister still has not disclosed what she said to Rupert Murdoch in New York. Whatever plan they cooked up, it didnât work. His UK newspapers failed to win a majority for May, despite their relentlessly negative coverage of Jeremy Corbyn and Labour before, during and after the general election. Dodgy backroom deals with Rupert Murdoch no longer work. Itâs time the government called his bluff, blocked the Fox deal and curbed his power.