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The culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has just approved Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to purchase the entirety of the shares of BSkyB, the broadcasting giant, of which he already owns a third. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, who was concerned by the rise of Murdoch’s media empire, initially blocked this move. Murdoch, who owns News Corporation, the third biggest media group in the world, already has control of outlets including The Sun, The News of the World, The Times and The Sunday Times – and that’s just in the UK. The move is meant to save Sky, who are currently making a loss, through private funding and governance – but critics are concerned at the lack of independence this will allow Sky, and suggest that with Murdoch owning more than half of the British media, there will be no independence in the press.
Since the proposal has been made, however, share prices for BSkyB have rocketed from 700p to 832p and are expected to rise. It will therefore cost News Corporation more than £8bn to gain total ownership over Sky. Reports claim that they may not be willing to go that high. Negotiations are ongoing, both within the corporation and the political parties, who have three weeks to object to the deal.
The fact that Cable, one of the most senior members of parliament, was removed from the case after he was overheard claiming that he was going to “make war” against Murdoch, blocking his plans for even greater mass media ownership demonstrates the significance of the implications of the takeover. Murdoch’s global political power is impressive, and he has been known to make tactful political donations to suit his, generally, right wing standpoint. Since Cable’s slip up, popular opinion has suggested it was inevitable that Hunt would approve the deal.
The whole point of Sky as a news and media corporation is meant to be that it is independent and free from the “bias” associated with the state funded BBC. But takeover by Murdoch, unless he is driven away by the soaring share prices, is almost inevitable, as insiders have reported that BSkyB are extremely unlikely to take funding from rival broadcasters.
While it’s true that all media outlets are bound to be biased at least to some extent through both the influence of their investors and the political leanings of those at the top, the growing mass ownership of broadcasting and publications is alarming to say the least. When what’s reported to us as “news” can be so easily bought and sold, manipulated and repackaged, it makes it difficult to really accept anything we read or watch.
Bias when it is on a low level, within one privately owned corporation or another is to be expected, and with foresight of the sort of paper you are buying, or of the political tendencies of the broadcaster, is relatively harmless. It is, however, this blanketing of all communication in the way reports between the government and the people are made that is more sinister. Vince Cable’s public humiliation as a result of his attempts to falter Murdoch’s plans serve as a warning to anyone who attempts to get in his way. If the takeover is completed, it heralds a new stage in the communications age that we live in, and one that we must be wary to be a part of.