Well, stone me, Rupert Murdoch got what he wanted. There’s a turn-up for the books, what a surprise, etc, etc, vamp till ready. Today the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that News Corp, headed by Yoda and his idiot son, Jimbo, would be permitted to buy most of the remainder of Sky Broadcasting, the UK’s largest cable network in which they already own an X%* share.
The Murdochs have been angling for the takeover for some time, with increasing fear that mounting opposition to the deal — which would result in News Corp having control of a TV news network — from, well, all other media, would stymie it. No one wants to offend Murdoch, but the Sky takeover had united the Telegraph, Guardian, Associated Press, and the ex-KGB agent who owns the Indy and the Evening Standard, in opposition.
So this week News hit the nuclear option and put in a safety release deal — if it was allowed to take over Sky, it would sell Sky News, with a built-in contract to take its feed for the next 10 years, so that the thing can actually be sold (it loses £30 million a year). Independence will be preserved, and the Murdoch family will be specifically banned from being on the board. So that’s all right then?
Well, yeah, that was the theory last time, when Murdoch took over the Times, and agreed to the installation of, oooh, an independent board. God knows what happened to that — perhaps, like the Council of Trent, they are still in session somewhere 25 years later — but it was widely regarded as Murdoch’s greatest ever game of Muggins turn on a hapless populace. Until now.
The takeover went in a way that Australians would recognise with deep weariness — Hunt initially said that he would refer the matter to the Competition Commission, while Ofcom, the toothless broadcasting regulator had suggested the deal be rubber-stamped. Having hummed and haahed, Hunt then waved the deal through with a 14-day consultation period. In a WikiLeakish move, he’s made all the documents that went into the decision publicly available online.
Which would be fine IF HE HADN’T ALDREADY MADE THE DECISION.
Has Murdoch genuinely relinquished control of Sky News? Quite possibly. UK broadcasters are more tightly regulated than their US counterparts in terms of not lying pathologically, so it is less use to have a news channel than in the US. The key may lie in News Corp’s defence a whole back when Fox was being assailed for its lunatic commentators such as Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. “That’s not news,” they remarked “that’s entertainment.”
As far as one can see, there’s nothing to stop Murdoch or the lucky sprog loading political entertainment anywhere else in the schedule they like, and thus contribute to the further development of a yahoo right-wing culture in our green and pleasant land.
Of course there’s always the possibility that News Corp really doesn’t care about the extra news capacity — they just want total domination of the cable market, with all the advantages that confers. In a way that’s even more depressing than the idea that they’re extending n-ked political ambition. They’re just rattling around the world, accumulating media. Murdoch is hoping that he has his mother’s genes and will live another 20 years, and James is hoping his dad will be killed by a large cone of frozen urine falling from a passing 747.
Things will need to happen fast for James — who had the gumption to realise early on that if the first thing you do out of Ivy League is start a record label, then you’re the family spanner, and it’s best to stick with the family firm. He will have 10 good years, then the Murdoch-Deng children will be of age, and he’ll end his days in a tiny iron mask chained to an old totem tennis pole cemented in to the garden of Harold Holt’s old house in Yunnan, dancing and grunting for corncobs and milk.
Really, I’m sure Murdoch will find a way around the news channel separation, but it’s very hard to care about the rest of it. The whole structure of broadcasting is changing so fast, and the rise of video on demand is so rapid, that desperate attempts to maintain greater competition within the old behemoths seems forlorn from the start.
Quite possibly Murdoch will use the new control to pursue his enemies in as yet undreamed of ways — especially as the News of the World phone-hacking scandal creeps ever nearer. Labour, and just about every columnist in the country have denounced the move, but there’s no doubt that Mandelson, Blair and Brown would have tried to do the same if they’d thought they could get away with it.
What matters more than imposing pseudo-diversity on old media, is ensuring that new media have equal online access, so that the broadcast environment can be changed by new forces. Murdoch’s oligarchy, his grim joyless desire to own everything, will be defeated by undermining the scarcity from which broadcasting has drawn its value. Think it won’t happen? Can I interest you in a stake in Fairfax?
* Figures? You want figures? Not my department. See Dyer.