At least the Poms are prepared to have a review of the US$18 billion bid for Sky from 21st Century Fox. In Australia, the Turnbull government and Nick Xenophon are negotiating a dodgy trade-off: tighter gambling advertising restrictions against easing the already weak media ownership laws in Australia that will allow the Murdoch’s other company, News Corp, the ability to further increase its control over the Australian media — whether it is print, broadcast, radio or online.

The federal government will introduce its media laws into the Senate on Monday as it tries to give Nick Xenophon and his party tougher restrictions on gambling ads on TV (while offering the TV industry a one-off hit from eliminating TV licence fees). Easing the “voices” or cross-media laws will allow News Corp to cement its control over the faltering Ten Network and to buy the Nova radio network from Lachlan Murdoch.

But in Britain it’s a very different story, where UK Culture and Media Minister Karen Bradley followed up on her “initial inclination” and referred the massive Sky bid to the regulator, Ofcom, for a 40-day assessment of the bid on two grounds: media plurality and broadcasting standards. At the end of that period, Ofcom can flag concerns and refer the bid for a deeper inquiry — or, as it did in 2010, find that the merger may “operate against the public interest”. But there is a big difference this time: Ofcom will also conduct a separate but simultaneous review of whether Sky and its chairman James Murdoch are “fit and proper” to hold and operate a UK broadcasting licence.

That is the dangerous part of the referral. Fox and the Murdoch empire say the media situation in Britain has changed since 2009 with newspaper sales down sharply, more people watching and using Google, Twitter, BuzzFeed, HuffPo and Facebook and the empire has been split into two companies: Fox and News Corp.

In Britain, the recent media buys by News Corp include the purchase of the regional dailies of APN, the buying of Sky News Australia from Seven and Sky of the UK, and the 13.8% stake Foxtel (50% controlled by News) in the struggling Ten Network where Lachlan Murdoch already has an 8.9% holding. — Glenn Dyer

Peter Fray

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