Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Media
4 November 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 2:10am

Cable and Murdoch: it’s war

Expect Murdoch and his henchmen to unleash the forces of hell on the Business Secretary.

By George Eaton

In a remarkable demonstration of his independence from David Cameron, Vince Cable has just referred Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB bid to Ofcom on grounds of plurality. Following News International’s full-throated support for the Conservatives, Murdoch had hoped that the deal would be nodded through, but he didn’t reckon with Cable.

Ofcom will now be required to investigate the bid and report back by 31 December.

The takeover bid has split the cabinet along party lines, and Tory ministers are said to be relaxed about the deal. But the speed with which the Business Secretary has acted (BSkyB officially notified the European Commission of the takeover bid on Wednesday) suggests that he’s fully aware of the threat to media plurality.

As Mark Thompson recently argued in his impressive MacTaggart Lecture, Murdoch’s bid, if successful, would lead to a “concentration of cross-media ownership” that would be unacceptable in the United States or Australia.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

As the owner of the Sun, the News of the World, the Times and the Sunday Times, Murdoch already controls 37.3 per cent of UK newspaper circulation and, based on revenue, Sky is now the country’s largest broadcaster, with an annual income of £5.4bn. If successful, News Corp’s bid for the 60.9 per cent of BSkyB that it does not own at present would have disastrous consequences for media plurality.

Once the deal is complete, we can expect Murdoch to bundle his newspapers with Sky subscriptions in an attempt to offset falling circulation. As the media analyst Claire Enders has predicted, by the middle of this decade, the News Corp head could control 50 per cent of the newspaper and television markets, a concentration of ownership that would make even Silvio Berlusconi blush.

That Murdoch has a history of editorial intervention is not strictly relevant: it would be undesirable for any individual or company, however benevolent, to achieve such power. But it certainly raises the stakes.

Following its eight week public-interest assessment, Ofcom is likely to recommend a full investigation by the Competition Commission – something that could block the deal altogether. In the meantime, expect Murdoch and his henchmen to unleash the forces of hell against Cable.