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Murdoch forced to wait for the inevitable consolidation of Sky

It is hard to see, if you are not a UK citizen, why the UK Culture Secretary has referred the bid of 21ST Century Fox for 100% of Sky, to the Competition and Markets Authority.

The truth is that, deserved or not, there is a deep seated hatred of all things Murdoch in the UK. That is Rupert Murdoch, chairman of 21st Century Fox and any business or person he touches. This is because Murdoch broke the print unions in the UK and changed the way newspapers reported news. For years his Sun newspaper featured a breast-naked girl on page 3 every day, to cheer the common working man – much to the irritation of any feminist.

But working on the basis that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely, the reason that UK politicians are so frightened of him, is that his instruments of news, both written and audio-visual through his control of Sky TV, have been used to convince UK voters to pick the government of the day which best suited Murdoch’s business interests. At least that is how it is perceived.

The final shaming of Murdoch’s news empire came over the interception of mobile phone messages by “Private Investigators” to drive the news agenda, which gave rise to a full public investigation, the Leveson Inquiry, which recommended that the press had a new official complaints board with teeth. The conservative government of the day was so “scared” that it would be given the Murdoch treatment and hounded out of office that it refused to accepts the Inquiry’s recommendations. No-one in Murdoch’s employment was successfully prosecuted over the phone hacking, so presumably no fresh inquiry can suddenly find them guilty.

Now the Culture Minister is caught between two stools – on the one hand she doesn’t want to be singled out by Murdoch’s vehicles for criticism, on the other, she doesn’t want to be seen as the politician that made Murdoch even more powerful. Her answer is to force the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to take the decision for her.

The deal has already been okayed by Ofcom, which is the telecommunications regulator in the UK, but that doesn’t seem to be enough. And this week the CMA explained the basis of how it will reach its recommendation.

It needs to take evidence from all constituents over whether Murdoch Family Trust (MFT) controls or influences editorial and commercial decisions at Sky News. It needs to be clear if this would change when it moves from 39% ownership by Murdoch interests, to 100%.

The truth is that Sky News is already controlled by the Murdoch Trust, so there is no way that any change could be material in nature.

It also has to ascertain whether or not the range of viewpoints available from news and current affairs sources in the UK is evolving in general and would change in particular as a result of the transaction. Same answer.

Finally it needs to look at how people consume news and current affairs these days, and the last UK election shows that people entirely ignored all the press and newspapers, and relied instead on Facebook as the method for promoting the parties – a process which advantaged the Labour party the most.

It would be far harder to answer all these questions if Murdoch was buying say Facebook, but as Sky no longer has the ability to control the political landscape, there can be no rational reason for not allowing the transaction. However the UK dislike of all things Murdoch remains so high that the CMA may not reach a rational decision, and all the public comments may well be highly anti Murdoch.

The CMA also has to decide if the transaction would lower broadcasting standards, but given that Sky is a paragon in this respect despite already being controlled by Murdoch, and for much of the time it was being run with his son as CEO, so this is all window dressing and airing of grievances, and none of it has any substance.

The chief shareholder, 21st Century Fox said in a statement this week that it welcomes the publication by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) of its Issues Statement and looks forward to the CMA process. It also said that it looked forward to completing its acquisition during 2018. You may not like the hard-nosed money making machine that is Sky, but it is a forward looking pay TV operator, ahead of the curve technically and one of the world leaders.

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