News Corp wants to take full control of BSkyB and the UK’s old media is out in force to stop it from happening. Julian Clover looks on.
In its lead up to an item on the proposed takeover of BSkyB by News Corp, Radio 4’s Today programme pointed out that most people probably thought that the media giant owned all of the satcaster anyway. As it happens it has not done so since the fledgling Sky Television merged with British Satellite Broadcasting almost two decades ago.
On the face of it all News Corp is trying to do is create the same environment for BSkyB as exists with DirecTV in the United States and Sky Italia, but for the broadcasters that have seen Sky eat into their market shares over successive years, and fear more is to follow. It has also put an end to the peaceful co-existence that has existed amongst the former tenants of Fleet Street.
Together the BBC, Channel 4, BT, The Guardian, Trinity Mirror, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph have written to the business secretary Vince Cable, urging him to refer the matter to Ofcom with the purpose of scrutinising the public interest aspects of the deal, which the signatories say could have “far reaching consequences for media plurality”.
For whatever reason the media always seems to have more left leaning journalists than not, over the years I’ve encountered editors and colleagues who have railed against anything from the Murdoch stable, gently overlooking their subscription to Sky Sports and all the benefits it entails.
The Guardian has of course been in its element, producing articles on how Sky dominates the sports arena following the departure of Setanta from the UK market, arguably the grip is the same as it has been since the start of the Premier League, though ESPN may dispute this and remarkably there are sports other than football. The BBC has also been weighing in, its drama chief Ben Stephenson quoted (in The Guardian), that Sky’s spend on UK drama was dwarfed both by its spend on US product and of course by the BBC. A fair point, though Sky’s latest drama Thorne would not look out of place on any of the Big Five channels. Sky’s ‘trick’ has been to concentrate its fire and market what little UK drama production it has for all its worth.
So what of the plurality in UK media? Broadband TV News is about as independent a publication as they come and surely there is an argument for Cable to recommend that the News Corp bid receive the full scrutiny of Ofcom. But what of YouView, the former Project Canvas, where the BBC, Channel 4 and BT are all shareholders. When the other partners are added to the list we have a collection of media interests that together must surely command attention. Is not YouView deserving of the same level of investigation by the appropriate authorities?