A great debate over media concentration has been taking place in the UK as News Corp bids to buy BSkyB, whose properties include 24-hour news channel Sky News. News Corp already owns 39% of BSkyB, more commonly referred to as Sky, and there has been much opposition to allowing the purchase of the remainder of the company.
News Corp, via its subsidiary News International, owns The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and The News of the World, which account for about 37% of the national newspaper market. Sky is the UK's largest pay TV platform, reaching one third of all homes. As well as news, it focuses on sports, films and entertainment. It also has a significant radio news presence. Combined, News Corp and BSkyB would have a turnover of £7.5bn, compared to the BBC's £4.8bn.
Earlier this month, business secretary Vince Cable ordered media regulator Ofcom to examine the bid on public interest grounds, the Guardian reported at the time. "The independent experts at Ofcom will now investigate and report to me on the media plurality issues that may arise from this proposed acquisition," he said. Cable had been urged by competitors to intervene, including the BBC, Telegraph Newspapers, the Guardian Media Group, Trinity Mirror, Channel 4 and Internet provider BT Group.
Editor of the Guardian Alan Rusbridger warned last week of the "chilling effect" that "one large media company can have on public life," the Guardian reported. The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom believes that the takeover would have "a disastrous effect on the balance of the British media." The Telegraph reported that two Internet-based lobbying organisations, 38 degrees and Azaaz, have teamed up to file about 60,000 anti-bid submissions to Ofcom. They delivered 60,000 personal messages to Ofcom on Friday.
Even the Church of England has joined in opposition to the deal, the Associated Press reported on Monday, as bishop of Manchester Nigel McCulloch said that the church fears "subtle editorial influence" over Sky News, " not least in the process of selecting which news items are to be covered and which left out."
As well as the fears regarding editorial influence, competitors are also concerned about the possibility that News Corp would sell combined newspaper, television and broadband offerings in bundled deals and would restrict advertising on other media groups wanting to use its platforms, the Telegraph said.
Meanwhile, the Sky board has written to Ofcom insisting that it would be "contrary to the public interest" to block a merger or acquisition opportunity available to Sky, noting that Sky continues to invest in Sky News as an independent news service and that "The availability of Sky News to audiences, therefore, is the result of a strong commercial incentive, not of any obligation to provide television news"
Sky's statement also reminds Ofcom that its investigation should be limited to the impact of the proposal on media plurality, while its impact on competition is a matter that falls to the European Commission. The EC is conducting a second probe into the deal.
James Murdoch said last week that blocking the takeover will lead to a loss of jobs. He said that the company has spent heavily in the UK over the decades and had created 30,000 jobs.
Ofcom has until the end of the year to make a decision on the bid, and the European Commission is expected to give its initial views early next month. Obviously it is impossible to closely compare the situations in two very different countries, but media concentration in Italy has led to many fears about press freedom in the country. Obviously the fact that the UK prime minister is not at the head of one of these media companies, as is Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, is a relief, but the close ties between Britain's Conservative party and News Corp are cause for concern for some.