One of the big business stories this side of the pond, is Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to buy the 61% of shares in Sky Television that he doesn’t own. Mr Murdoch, by dint of his persuasive powers with the previous British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, not only owns The Sun newspaper and The Times, but was able to buy into Sky TV at a time when Labour was promising to introduce ‘cross media ownership’ legislation designed explicitly with Murdoch in mind, ie restricting his ability to own both newspapers and television stations. Blair and his eponymous spin doctor, Alastair Campbell entered into this Faustian pact with Murdoch, when the media mogul bought them over on a private plane to Hayling Island, Australia. In return Blair got the support of the Murdoch press during the 1997 General Election and subsequent elections.
Who knows what David Cameron promised in return for Murdoch switching his papers this year in time for the General Election, but interestingly, the media regulator, OFCOM has suddenly rolled over and defended Sky News TV in respect of a barrage of complaints about some of its less than impartial election coverage. Murdoch and his son, James, clearly have OFCOM in their sights – along with its Director, Ed Richards, who now has the misfortune to be remembered as a former Blair/Brown adviser.
OFCOM is Murdoch’s number one target, and he is letting his son, James do the talking. He has attacked its apparent power, although to many the regulator seems pretty toothless, and has also demanded – and this is the crux of if it – that the Government changes legislation to ensure that impartiality laws are removed and with them, OFCOM. No wonder the regulators have gone all weak at the knees.
Conspiracy theorists, of which I am one, sniff a Murdoch plot – one that he believes would enable him to free the loss making Sky News from its impartiality prison, and allow it to become a ranting version of Fox TV. This, believes the Murdoch clan, would make Sky News irresistible viewing.
Well even if the Murdochs get away with this grand heist on broadcasting standards and attempt to drag us in to the gutter with them, a Fox TV hybrid is unlikely to work here. In fact I am almost relaxed about Murdoch getting his own way, because it will prove to be such a turn off to viewers. I suspect that the BBC, which would of course retain its impartiality, would be the big winner, as viewers desert a shrill Sky in droves.
There is of course another reason why a hybrid Fox TV, with all of its Right wing impossibilists and loony tunes will fail. Britain is about to experience unemployment and economic contraction on a massive scale and after a while it may not be possible to blame migrants or Guardian readers, or even truculent trades unionists. In short, Britain is set to lurch leftwards, as the Murdoch family head further off to the Right.
Timing is all, and they don’t have it.