MONDAY 21 AUG 2017 2:19 PM


In 2011, UK tabloid the News of the World ceased operations after 168 years in print. This came as a response to allegations of phone hacking and the revelation that a private reporter, hired by the paper, had gained access to the voicemail of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. A concerted effort among senior politicians, including former prime minister David Cameron and former Labour leader Ed Miliband, led to a widespread outcry - with a financial impact on the paper’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, and his News Corporation business.

As well as forever tarnishing the paper’s reputation, the outcry resulted in the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corporation being forced to withdraw its £8bn bid for paid-for TV service Sky, then known as BSkyB (British Sky Broadcasting). Two years later, Murdoch split the once-integrated New Corporation into an entertainment arm, 21st Century Fox, and a newspaper and publishing business, News Corp. Now, the 2011 Murdoch-led bid foreshadowing current events, the controversial media mogul is once again in limbo.

Although initially putting forward £11.7bn to buy the rebranded Sky at the end of 2016, this time through 21st Century Fox, Murdoch’s ambitions are currently on hold. Secretary of state for culture, Karen Bradley, stipulates that independent broadcasting standards authority Ofcom must probe further into Fox employee practices, some of whom are the subject of allegations and law suits surrounding sexual harassment and workplace misconduct. Bradley, along with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has also requested confirmation that Murdoch is deemed fit to hold a position likely to further consolidate his influence on global news sources.

In a media statement, Bradley says, "My priority remains – as it has throughout this proposed merger – to make my decision independently, following a process that is scrupulously fair and impartial, and as quickly as possible."

However, with Rupert Murdoch’s son James Murdoch in place as Sky chairman and CEO of Fox Group, the Murdoch name is under scrutiny. Its ability to deliver a service that meets the required media standards for UK broadcasting, and the potential audience impact of another Murdoch-owned service, is also under consideration. With 22 million customers, Sky’s reach presents an extension of the Murdoch empire. For those opposed to a Fox-Sky acquisition, and especially given the decreasing trust in nation states and political bodies cited by bodies such as the Reputation Institute, Murdoch holding more influence than institutions such as the UK government is a frightening prospect.

Yet the merging of Sky and Fox is not altogether unexpected; just under 40% of Sky is already owned by the entertainment arm. With the current media landscape in disarray amid accusations of ‘fake news’ from vocal portions of the US right-wing, a Murdoch takeover of Sky could see the broadcaster focus more on entertainment with a limit to its news output. This seems particularly likely given it is Fox, the entertainment side, extending the current bid - in 2011, it was Sky’s news division, News Corporation.

The Murdochs’ questionable corporate governance and less-than-rosy UK reputation is therefore undoubtedly a leading factor in the current unwillingness in allowing the bid to go ahead.

Concern by Ofcom that media plurality in a Sky-Fox partnership may be less of a priority than with other broadcasters is symptomatic of a global media landscape where, in the face of increasing competition and fervent adversity, sensation – rather than fact – is grabbing the headlines. Maintaining broadcasting standards in a country which prides itself on a generally fair, balanced outlook is paramount; on 8 August Karen Bradley announced her final decision is to be delayed until Ofcom review its findings for a second time.

It is thought the final decision on the Fox-Sky acquisition will be announced at the end of August 2017.