Once again, unlike Australia, the Brits have got it right on questions of media plurality and good governance in the media. They are vital issues, deserving to deepest scrutiny and assessment. That was very clear from the UK government’s raising of these key issues in connection with the Murdoch clan’s 21st Century Fox’s multibillion-dollar attempt to mop up the 61% of Sky that it doesn’t already own. In a letter on Friday, officials from Culture and Media Minister Karen Bradley’s office gave an initial reaction, and she also wrote a separate, stronger letter in which she said:

“The first public interest ground on which I am minded to intervene is media plurality. That is, specifically, the need for there to be a sufficient plurality of persons with control of the media enterprises serving audiences in the UK. The second public interest ground on which I am minded to intervene is commitment to broadcasting standards. This ground relates to the need for persons carrying on media enterprises, and for those with control of such enterprises, to have a genuine commitment to attaining broadcasting standards objectives.”

The letters show that the Poms take media plurality, governance and associated issues far more seriously than we do. Since 2011, News Corp has been allowed to take an indirect stake in the Ten Network via its 50% owned associate Foxtel (where it controls the management). That was done after Lachlan Murdoch acquired a near 9% stake. With the Foxtel stake of more than 13%, the family effective dominates around 22% of the struggling broadcaster’s shares. Foxtel/News also controls Ten’s lifeblood, its advertising, via a deal with MCN, an ad sales group controlled by Foxtel. News has also been allowed to buy the regional dailies of APN News and Media, after taking a 14.9% stake in that company and News had been allowed to take control of Sky News, the only exclusive pay TV news provider in Australia. All have been waved through with not to much worries, an examination here and there by the competition authorities and not much notice by the broadcast media regulator, ACMA.

That section of the departmental letter will raise worries and both hackles around the Murdoch empire. A stain on the Murdoch escutcheon or a proud battle scar? — Glenn Dyer

Peter Fray

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