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Cable is right to refer BSkyB bid

Comment: Professor Steven Barnett welcomes Vince Cable's decision to refer News Corp’s proposal to acquire BSkyB to Ofcom.

“Vince Cable’s prompt decision is an essential and welcome initiative by the Government. It recognises the potential threat to democracy of a single, huge and integrated media conglomerate which would dwarf all other media enterprises and would clearly be contrary to the government’s stated aims of maintaining a diverse and plural media in Britain.

“News Corp’s minority shareholding means that the interests of BSkyB shareholders are currently protected by independent directors and that Sky’s profits cannot be used to further the corporate or editorial interests of Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. A full takeover will entrench an already dominant financial and editorial position, enabling News Corp to cross-subsidise newspapers, promote its other operations (such as film and publishing) across media platforms, and dominate the editorial agenda.

“While the existence of impartiality laws prohibit systematic and blatant promotion of one-sided political views, they cannot cater for stories that are simply excluded nor subtle examples of editorial influence. News Corp has a long history of editorial intervention and would be able to exploit use of its broadcasting outlets, including Sky News, to influence the news agenda without breaching statutory rules.

“Were this deal to go through, one organisation – and ultimately one man – would wholly own 37% of the UK’s national press in addition to one of only two commercial television news operations. Such a serious threat to media plurality requires rigorous scrutiny, and Ofcom’s investigation should be welcomed by anyone concerned about the dangers of such overweening power being invested in a single individual.”

Steven Barnett is professor of communications at the University of Westminster.

Posted 04 November 2010 by Steven Barnett
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