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Sky campaigners step up the pressure

CAMPAIGNERS to stop Rupert Murdoch's empire swallowing up Sky TV are stepping up the pressure after the news that its existing stake in Sky is to be sold to the even bigger Disney corporation.

They see the deal with Disney, announced on 14 December, as a sign that the bid by 21st Century Fox (21CF) to buy up the whole of Sky was running into trouble with the regulators.

The Murdochs have agreed to sell 21CF's film and entertainment assets for $60 billion, holding on to their newspaper, website and TV interests - except for their 39 percent of Sky TV.

This holding is the base for their bid to buy the whole company - Europe's biggest TV broadcaster with revenues nearly twice the BBC's. The bid is currently bogged down with in the takeover regulation process: the Competition and Markets Authority is conducting a six-month inquiry that won't conclude until next March, and speculation is spreading that the Murdochs are selling because it won't succeed.

It is more than a year since the Sky bid was launched. At the time industry experts assumed it would go through fairly smoothly. But the level of protest has been intense, with more than 42,000 people registering objections when the media regulator Ofcom held a public consultation earlier in 2017.

The main objections are that the Murdochs also control the biggest newspaper/online-news group in the UK, and the takeover would give them unacceptable media power, with the political consequences that would entail.

Many have also cited the appalling record of their US network Fox TV. The 24-hour Fox News cable channel pumps out non-stop right-wing propaganda and is a major source of "fake news"; this record means that Fox is likely to fail the test of "commitment to broadcasting standards" set by culture secretary Karen Bradley when she referred the takeover to the CMA.

21CF's TV output falls hopelessly short of the UK public service broadcasting standards required to be licensed by Ofcom and the possibility of the "Foxification" of Sky News is alarming for everyone.

London Freelance Branch has backed the opposition, voting to support the leading role of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, to which the branch is affiliated. LFB has donated £500 to the crowdfunding appeal the CPBF has launched to fund the work. The appeal is for £20,000 to pay a campaign worker and other campaigning costs until the end of June 2018 (Fox say they expect to complete their bid for Sky by then).

There have been all kinds of motives suggested for the Murdochs' shock asset sale to Disney, among them that they hope to win control of Sky by letting Disney buy it with some later rôle for themselves. But what is certain is that the current takeover bid is still going ahead.

The CMA is continuing its inquiry; after all, the Disney deal may fall through or be turned down by US regulators, since it would lead to a serious concentration of studio production and film distribution in the movie industry.

The US regulatory process will itself take more than a year, so the UK Sky bid will be over before it is concluded. The campaign to make sure it fails will go on.

Tim Gopsill, editor of the CPBF journal Free Press and co-secretary of LFB, said: "The Murdoch bid is still going ahead and it must still be stopped. We don't want Fox-type news TV polluting our TV in the way that Murdoch newspapers polluted our press with the phone-hacking, the racism and the rest."