Clover’s Week: Let’s get Sky

The Commons Media Committee sets its own Fit and Proper test on BSkyB, but does it really know the rules? Julian Clover asks.

Listening in on Monday to the report from the Commons Media Committee was a lesson in why it is often useful to look at the pictures.

In their on screen captions news channels have the habit of telling you what has just happened, what is coming up, but not necessarily who is on screen at that particular moment.

Without the pictures one could have been mistaken as to how scathing the report into the News International phonehacking scandal actual was. It was pretty bad, but the statement of Tom Watson did not represent the opinions of the committee as a whole.

The Labour MP had somehow blurred his dogged determination with a built in distrust of News Corp and of Rupert Murdoch.

It wasn’t the first time that a cross party committee had split on party lines, but this was one was a place where it really should have hung together.

Labour and Liberal Democrat members of the committee had sought to link the travails of News International, where the now defunct News of the World had hacked into the telephones of celebrities, politicians and crucially members of the public at times of tragedy, with Ofcom’s Fit and Proper test.

Readers outside of the UK should be reminded that the Lib Dems are currently in an unlikely coalition government with the Conservatives.

It is often reported as if the test is something new, but is more or less an ongoing process, given a heightened importance through a dedicated Ofcom enquiry.

But rather like the days when some sections of the media would report Sky as if it was just one channel or better still declare how expensive the satellite product was as if subscribers were forced to take everything, most people seem to think Sky only has one licence.

Looking at Ofcom’s list of licensed cable and satellite channels I counted close to 80 Sky-branded channels, each with a separate licence.

And of course News Corp doesn’t actually own all of Sky, just around 39%, its attempt to take over the rest of the shares having been withdrawn as the phonehacking scandal blew up.

Other than James Murdoch, who sits on the board of BSkyB and was chairman of News International, there is little connection in the day-to-day operations of paper and broadcast. Is the argument that the culture of cover-up stretches across all of News Corp? There is no evidence to suggest that.

One sideline. Tom Mockridge who replaced Rebekah Brooks as chief executive of News International after her resignation came from Sky Italia.