News Corp’s purchase of the rest of BSkyB is centring on the company’s hold, or otherwise, on the UK news agenda, writes Julian Clover.
The key difficulty of the News Corp-Sky takeover story is that so many of the people doing the reporting have a vested interest in its outcome. Or at least that is the perception of many of them.
Britain’s modern press barons have as much of an axe to grind as they did in the days of Lords Northcliffe and Beaverbrook and today this is played out on the front pages and in the editorial columns.
In Germany and Italy, where News Corp also has satellite platforms, there is not the presence of four national newspapers. Sky Italia does have its own news channel and it is Sky News UK that has been a key area of interest.
The popular news channel is mooted to have been offered for sale as a sweetener to the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt who will ultimately make the decision on whether News Corp will be able to own what it already effectively controls. Such a move appears to be fading from reality. More likely an editorial board, similar to that already in place on The Times, would be introduced.
In its submission to the DCMS, News Corp has played down the effects, offering a study into the plurality of news from FTI as mitigation. “It cannot be assumed that the Transaction will bring about a significant actual change in the editorial independence of Sky News”. There are, as News Corp points out, measures in place to ensure the editorial independence of the channel. There has however been talk of allowing more freedom for television broadcasters to offer a partial line, a conversation that must surely dry up when the dust settles on sale.
Sky News is now behind the BBC News Channel in terms of audience, and it will come as no surprise that News Corp is playing down its influence, suggesting that the percentage of the UK population that relies on Sky News and News International papers alone is just 0.3%. Those who remember the tabloid direction taken by Sky News during the brief tenure of former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie will have smiled at the line “past transfers of senior newspaper staff to Sky have generally been unsuccessful”, even if it does refer to the implementation of a newspaper style operation. The same document also describes News Corp’s TV activities in the UK and Ireland as being “rather limited”.
Of course there are other ways of measuring the influence of the News International titles. In a piece on BBC News, business editor Robert Peston explained the proportion of the UK that relied on News International for its information was second to only to the BBC.