The question of media plurality has become something of a sideshow with regard to News Corporation’s bid to take over the 61% of BSkyB it does not already own. Predictably, and somewhat depressingly, the focus has landed on the lack of transparency, the shortcomings and accusations of conflicted interest surrounding the personalities involved.
News Corp, of course, also owns UK newspapers The Sun, News of the World, The Times and The Sunday Times. The media group’s approach in June to take full control of BSkyB was thwarted when business secretary Vince Cable referred the deal to Ofcom.
As Marketing Week goes to press, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has indicated an intent to refer the deal to the Competition Commission, as advised by Ofcom. However, he has kindly offered to delay doing so in case News Corp can put remedies in front of him that sufficiently alleviate his concerns for the public interest, thereby saving him the trouble of referring the deal to the regulators at all. This would be a result for News Corp, keen to avoid a delay in buying up the shares that could rise in price in months to come.
“From the moment Hunt was handed responsibility for this decision it seemed he was minded to ensure his party benefits from a good relationship with News Corp”
One could argue that Hunt’s leader, prime minister David Cameron, did him no favours in attending a private dinner with top News Corp executives before Christmas, just as Hunt was doing his very best to seem impartial.
In actual fact it never really seemed like Hunt was that impartial. From the moment he was handed responsibility for this decision after the unfortunate Mr Cable “declared war” on News Corp owner Rupert Murdoch, it seemed that Hunt was minded to ensure his ruling party benefits from a good relationship with News Corp’s kingmakers.
That feeling is hardly dispelled by Hunt’s agreement to meet representatives of the company behind closed doors in recent weeks, or by his granting News Corp extra time to address his concerns.
Meanwhile, as News Corp is busy convincing those that matter that increasing its reach would not see an unacceptable increase in power or reduction in accountability, the growing furore over illegal phone hacking at its News of the World title rumbles on. Former NOTW editor Andy Coulson resigned last week as Cameron’s director of communications, citing the pressure that ongoing questions over phone hacking were placing on Number 10. But that won’t be the end of the story – there are rumoured to be more witnesses preparing new lawsuits. Rupert Murdoch arrived in town this week to draw a line under a row that threatens to undermine his organisation’s reputation.
What we needed was a proper debate about media plurality so the entire UK population understood it fully and what it means to democracy.
Instead, many who live outside the media bubble, who rarely read a daily newspaper or watch a news bulletin, will get an over-riding, familiar sense that this business story they thought didn’t concern them before, now concerns them even less. For it is full of journalists and politicians doing what they do best, following their own personal agendas.