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Sky, Fox… no big deal

June 29, 2017

The UK Culture Secretary Karen Bradley has made her pronouncement on the Fox bid for Sky. It didn’t include the words grass, or long, or kick. But that was what it meant. The May government (otherwise known as ‘Maybe it’s a government, Maybe it isn’t’) has enough problems right now without dealing with this particularly as, like much else, it has the potential to split opinion in her own party.

Bradley decided she was minded – on Ofcom’s recommendation – to refer the bid to the Competition and Markets Authority, subject to further representations by mid-July. This is on the grounds that Sky plus Murdoch’s newspaper interests would give them a share of the UK news market third only to the BBC and ITV. It’s a bit of a pointless point; the newspapers will follow their own (Murdoch) way come what may, and Sky News is subject to the same broadcasting regulation as the BBC and ITV.

The fear is that left in the hands of the Murdochs, Sky News will morph into the same kind of headbanger freak show that is Fox News, which though mad, is also insanely successful. The delay to July 15th is presumably for some already oven-ready deal to bring in other shareholders or some kind of independent Trust arrangement for the channel, the offers to spin it off and fund it for five years having been rejected.

Of more concern recently has been the off-set activity at Fox News, where execs and stars have departed under clouds of accusations about sexism, misogyny and racism. This had raised the spectre of Ofcom and the government blocking the deal on broadcasting standards grounds, ‘the fit and proper’ test. But Bradley had no concerns here. Again, Sky is subject to UK broadcast regulations and, to that extent, should be insulated from what demonstrably seems to be an unfit and improper corporate culture at Fox where – as at News Corp in the days of hacking – an obsession with macho, aggressive competition both to competitors and colleagues has led to a toxic culture.

Although Rupert Murdoch is always reluctant to part with news assets – as Charlton Heston once said about his guns, you will have to prise the newspapers from his cold, dead hands – doubtless, some compromise deal will be cobbled for Sky News and the deal will eventually go through. Murdoch will relieved he is ‘blocked’ for now on something he can change and not on the culture issue, which, it seems, he cannot.

It all seems, frankly, so very 20th century in a week when the EU fined Google €2.4 billion for manipulating search to their own commercial advantage. What is Karen Bradley going to do about all the media, governance and plurality issues surrounding GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) and all? What is anyone going to do about them? Quite.

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