Saturday, December 17, 2016

21st Century Fox bid for Sky

Over last day or two my inbox has been overwhelmed by emails from constituents deeply concerned about a bid by 21st Century Fox for the 61% of Sky it doesn't already own. Fox has bid £18.7 billion, 40% over the current share price. Appears to be a good offer, which has been accepted. If my inbox is any guide, this is the biggest issue of concern this week, leaving the terrible events in Syria and uncertainties around Brexit way behind. All of the emails are exactly the same, suggesting they are based on a campaign organised by a lobby group of some sort, which is not named. There is no indication who or what is behind the campaign. Now, I think this Fox bid to be interesting, and will share with you the content of these emails ---

 "Dear MP, Today, Rupert Murdoch officially launched his bid to take over Sky. I am one of thousands of people concerned. He already has too much influence over our news. Allowing him to own even more puts the democratic nature of our news at risk, and will be a deeply worrying move. The first step to stopping the bid requires the Secretary of State at DCMS to launch as investigation. She will only do this if there is enough pressure from people like you. So please will you speak with Karen Bradley on my behalf and ask her to refer the bid to Ofcom. There is not a lot of time - in fact only 10 days in which she can refer the bid. Please will you write to Karen Bradley and share my concerns. Please will you let me know her response."

Normally, I don't favour Gov't getting involved in commercial deals, but there are interesting aspects to this deal, and the campaign to stop it. While the emails are personalised against Rupert Murdoch, the bid is actually made by 21st Century Fox. The dominant personality in this company is James Murdoch, who was much criticised after the 'hacking' scandal a few years ago. At the time many concluded he was not a fit and proper person to lead BSkyB, (as Sky was then known). Today he is widely admired as a strong and effective businessman. Not much doubt about his competence today.
Second objection seems to be about media plurality - and the public interest. But this is not so clear cut either. In both areas of its activities, Fox must be under pressure from market changes.  Firstly, the readership of its newspapers in the UK (Times, Sunday Times and the Sun) sales have been falling substantially - as have all newspapers. And in the US film and TV world, viewers are increasingly recording programmes to watch later, fast forwarding to avoid adverts. Fox has to adapt or die. Expanding into Europe with Sky is its preferred route to a secure future. The new business would not dominate as it would have done 5 yrs ago. There are so many other internet based platforms - Google, Facebook and others.

So maybe the threat of media domination and Fox having too much influence over our news is not as real as it would have been in the past. I can well understand why BT don't want another strong player to disrupt its own growing domination. I can also understand why the BBC would not want more well resourced private sector challenge to its liberal view of the world. I will tell the Secretary of State I've received all these letters as I've been asked to do, but not until I know who or what is behind them. Transparency matters to me. Then it's over to her.

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