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Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Hunt and Cameron's extraordinary decision on Murdoch/BSkyB

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP
(South West Surrey)
Just 11 days ago I speculated that a judicial review was a near-certainty when the Culture Secretary made his decision on whether to refer Murdoch's News Corporation bid to take full control over broadcaster BSkyB to the competition commission over concerns of media plurality in the UK.

Ofcom's widely-leaked recommendation was confirmed today: the bid should be sent for competition review.  Whether the full Ofcom report will be unveiled is at this stage unclear, and in my guess unlikely.

But the extraordinary part is Jeremy Hunt's decision to grant a stay of execution and allow News Corp extra time to address concerns over media plurality if Murdoch's group controlled news output from Sky, along with a raft of newspapers and news websites it already owned.

This "third way" seems designed to avoid a judicial review, for had Mr Hunt simply followed Ofcom's recommendation it's plausible that News Corp's lawyers would ask for a review; whilst, if the Culture Secretary ignored Ofcom's recommendation, a bizarre allegiance including Guardian Media Group, Telegraph Media Group and British Telecom looked like they might challenge.

Robert Peston broke this story on Radio 4's Today programme (around 7:25am if you're thinking of listening again):
"Jeremy Hunt does appear to be bending over to help News Corp"
 "It's absolutely extraordinary when you get a clear review from Ofcom that that recommendation does not start straight away"
John Humphrys then tossed in concerns surrounding reports of David Cameron's "cosy dinner" with News Corp executives plus the earlier questionable decision to move the review from a minister seen as hostile to the bid (Vince Cable) to one who's previously made "sympathetic" statements about the bid (Jeremy Hunt).

I don't like this decision at all.  It reeks of the kind of cronyism that dogged the Conservative governments of the 90's.  If the industry regulator - Ofcom - has made a recommendation, then why are we even in a position that a Secretary of State can choose to overturn the review?

At the very least it's a waste of public money commissioning a review in the first place if the government of the day has already decided that the outcome must be sympathetic to those bodies under review.

Another remarkable facet of the saga is that it comes in the wake of phone hacking allegations at the News of the World - a News Corp newspaper.  Whilst many Labour politicians are now happy to highlight the seeping evidence seemingly indicating the practice of phone hacking was far more prevalent than previously claimed, when in government many of these same Labour MPs were far more muted in their protestations.

Shares in BSkyB lept 6p to 756p on opening after the announcement this morning, and they're up 3.8% (27.5p) since opening on 22nd Dec on the day after Vince Cable was stripped of the decision.

If Murdoch has a stranglehold over the current government, is it just an extension of an influence he held over the previous?



  1. One of the biggest issues facing modern society (and I'm not really exaggerating) is dealing with the way information is disseminated, and how we oversee those who do the disseminating.

    In the 70's and 80's we were all very disparaging of Soviet propaganda, but at least that was obvious.

    How often does a conversation start, "did you read the article on....?" and we never question the independence of the author, forgetting that there is an editor and a media owner all ensuring that our news is filtered.

    Our opinions are shaped by the information we receive, and it is not healthy for our society to have that information carefully written for us in advance and scrutinised: I deplore the "comment and analysis" in the news: bbc, newspapers, ITN and online. That is not News it is Comment, i.e. opinion.

    I have no strong view on BSkyB, but merely because it is missing the wider point that we are all brainwashed by what we read and it is unavoidable. Our duty as citizens should be to keep an open mind. As one example, I take the other story on BBC today/yesterday about adoptions. The strap line was that potential adopters are being rejected on ethnic grounds. This was repeated as if it were a regular occurence, and yet when an guest pointed out that the research highlighted 8 out of 4000 cases where this was noted as one of several issues in a case history, suddenly that guest was pushed to one side.

    Media is subjective but we are too quick to assume it's objectivity. News aside, our children are learning their judgement from the Simpsons - that really concerns me.

  2. I think the point you make Matthew is people dont understand the difference between news and editorial...

  3. If I could be that concise, I'd probably be a journalist!


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