Will Cameron cave in to Murdoch again?

Rupert Murdoch’s bid to take full control of Sky raises grave public-interest concerns.

Rupert Murdoch's bid to take full ownership of BSkyB (he owns a 39 per cent stake) provides the coalition with its first big test on media ownership. David Cameron will want to avoid any suggestion that he pre-approved this deal in return for the support of Murdoch's newspapers, but he may struggle to do so.

We know that Murdoch visited Downing Street just a week after Cameron was appointed Prime Minister. Was News Corp's plan to take full control of Sky discussed? It would be surprising if it wasn't.

There is also no doubt that Murdoch timed his bid to coincide with the election of a government more sympathetic to calls for media deregulation. As I've previously noted, Cameron has already appeased Murdoch by agreeing to abolish Ofcom and potentially freeze or cut BBC funding.

The Lib Dems, however, may not see things the same way. It was the Murdoch-owned Sun, after all, that launched a series of crude, demagogic attacks on Nick Clegg after his success in the first leaders' televised debate. And, as David Prosser notes in today's Independent, it is Vince Cable, as Business Secretary, who will have to provide regulatory approval for any deal.

From one perspective, there is no decent objection to Murdoch acquiring full control of Sky. It was Murdoch who invested millions in the company, almost bankrupting News Corp in the process, and who had the foresight to recognise the immense potential of satellite television.

But the extent to which Sky will interact with the other divisions of Murdoch's media empire raises obvious public-interest concerns. As Prosser writes:

You won't see print journalists from beyond the News International stable being used as pundits on Sky News, for example, and it can't be long before Sky subscribers are offered special deals on the newspapers' internet operations, now they are being moved behind the paywall.

In a digital age, in which Sky produces huge amounts of text-based content and the Times produces ever more visual content, the boundaries are increasingly blurred.

It is for this reason that Cable must order Ofcom to review the takeover and its implications for British media. Cameron must not be allowed to cave in to Murdoch again.

Special subscription offer: Get 12 issues for £12 plus a free copy of Andy Beckett's "When the Lights Went Out".

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.