3 July, 2017 / By Kassandra, New Europe
Acquisition could put UK media owner influence on editorial content over the tipping point
This Thursday 29 June 2017 will remain in the mind of Rupert Murdoch. Indeed his attempt to expand his media group in Europe by acquiring pay-TV group Sky suffered a major setback on Thursday when the British government said it would refer its proposed takeover of Sky, the European satellite broadcaster, to regulators for additional review. The U.K. culture secretary Karen Bradley said the transaction could give the Murdoch family too much influence over British media; his media empire already has significant power there. Bradley said the proposed company would have the third largest total reach of any news provider in the U.K., uniquely spanning television, radio, newspapers and digital publications. “The proposed transaction would give the Murdoch Family Trust material influence over news providers with a significant presence across all key platforms,” she told the UK parliament. All this is coming from a very precise review of the Independent UK Regulator (OFCOM) who said there was a risk the deal could increase Murdoch’s influence over British politics and public opinion. Murdoch already controls three newspapers — The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times.
A recent report by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF) presented in Strasbourg during the last European Parliament Plenary session showed the UK is at “high risk” in terms of its concentration of ownership and the influence these owners exert on editorial content. The monitor, which gave percentage scores to indicate the severity of risk to media freedom, rated the UK at 83% for ownership concentration, compared to an EU average of 71%. Meanwhile, for owner’s influence on editorial content, the UK was given an eye-watering score of 92% compared to the EU’s average of 56%.
New Europe already reported exactly a month ago about the significant concerns raised by four members of the European Parliament urging a detailed review of the proposed merger following critical findings in the latest Media Reform Coalition report. At that time, those four MEPs (Brando Benifei, Neena Gill, Catherine Stihler, and Julie Ward) urged the UK government to safeguard “an independent and competitive news industry”, which they insist is “vital to any democracy.” And it looks like their concerns have been taken into consideration.
So now, what are the next steps?
Fox and Sky have until July 14 to respond to Bradley. If not convinced by their response, she will refer the deal to the Competition and Markets Authority for an in-depth investigation and this is what FOX is expecting as they said in an official statement that they would “continue to work constructively with the U.K. authorities,” adding it expected any further review to take at least 24 weeks for “an expected close by June 30, 2018,” Bradley said she had already rejected proposals from Fox and Sky aimed at addressing those concerns — including establishing an editorial board for Sky News with a majority of independent members. Ofcom also said it had considered allegations of sexual and racial harassment at Fox News, calling them “extremely serious and disturbing.”
But one of our main questions here is the following: Sky has 22 million customers in five European markets: Italy, Germany, Austria, the U.K. and Ireland. Are we going to see similar concerns coming in other major European countries like Italy or Germany? We know that Italian MP Paolo Tancredi (also Vice Chair of the European Affairs Commission in the Italian Congress) already raised concerns on this merger. Are the problems just starting for Rupert Murdoch? Are they any risks that the deal could collapse like in 2012? Only the next months will tell us…