The Media Today

The media today: Ethics questions hamper Murdoch Sky bid

September 18, 2017

Last week, UK Culture Secretary Karen Bradley referred 21st Century Fox’s proposed takeover of Sky to a competition regulator—a major blow to the Murdoch family’s interests in the country. Should the deal go through, Sky, which is already 39 percent owned by the Murdochs, “will join the Sun, the Times and talkRadio in the Murdochs’ British media empire, giving the family a bigger reach than any [UK] news provider apart from the BBC,” The Guardian reports.

The British government hasn’t just referred the deal because the Murdochs own such a large share of the UK media market. Bradley, against the advice of TV watchdog Ofcom, also cited “broadcasting standards” in her decision, apparently based on recent sexual assault allegations at Fox News and the network’s inglorious coverage of the Seth Rich conspiracy. It’s not the first time ethical questions have stalked the Murdochs’ Sky ambitions. In 2011, they dropped a previous bid for the network after their UK tabloids were found to have systematically hacked the voicemails of public figures.

The dual nature of the inquiry is welcome because, in the UK at least, the ethical standards of Murdoch properties have been inseparable from their dominant market share. As the phone-hacking scandal showed, Rupert Murdoch’s outsize influence led politicians and the police to turn a blind eye to illegal reporting practices at his titles for years. The government will have the final say on the Sky bid and may well still approve it, but the raising of ethics questions means that is no longer a sure thing.

Below, reaction to the referral and more from the UK:

  • “Standing up to Rupert Murdoch”: Editors at The Guardian, a long-time bete noire for Rupert Murdoch in the UK, praised the government for standing up to his “quest to expand his global media empire.”
  • The political reality: The Telegraph’s business correspondent, Christopher Williams, says Bradley’s decision was less about editorial standards at Fox and more about warding off a legal challenge which would further have weakened the governing Conservative Party.
  • Open for business: Speaking at the Royal Television Society convention after the referral, Rupert’s son James Murdoch warned the British government that blocking the takeover would show the country is not “truly open for business” in the wake of Brexit.
  • Fake news? Unrelatedly, a different press regulator in the UK ordered the Mail on Sunday to publish a retraction after it falsely claimed that world leaders had been “duped” by exaggerated climate data in the runup to the Paris agreement.


Other notable stories

  • In another desperate attempt to show he’s in on the joke, Sean Spicer made a surprise cameo at the Emmys last night. Reaction was mixed—both in the room and online.
  • Rolling Stone magazine is going up for sale. One potential suitor is Trump pal and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, who’s done business with the magazine’s owners before.
  • ICYMI, ESPN’s public editor Jim Brady weighed in on the Jemele Hill controversy, criticizing parts of the company’s reaction, but saying Hill put it in “a difficult position.” On Friday, CJR’s Justin Ray interviewed ThinkProgress reporter Lindsay Gibbs, who scooped the world with her revelation that ESPN tried to keep Hill off-air on Wednesday.
  • After 51 days in a Turkish jail and a concerted diplomatic lobbying campaign on his behalf, French reporter Loup Bureau returned home this weekend. His case once again spotlights deteriorating press freedom in Turkey.
  • And Michael Grimm, the Staten Island congressman who threatened to throw a NY1 reporter off a balcony and was later jailed for tax fraud, wants his old seat back.
Sign up for CJR's daily email
Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and The Nation, among other outlets. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.