Nobody expects UK Business Secretary Vince Cable to block Rupert Murdoch from buying the 61% of Sky he doesn’t already own. But Cable, a popular politician here in Britain, is unhappy about Murdoch’s tightening grip on UK media. The official cannot even start an examination until News Corp has filed its takeover bid with the European Commission in Brussels. I’m told that News Corp is still in pre-notification discussions with the IC and conversations are going back and forth between Brussels and News Corp headquarters in Isleworth, west London. Formal notification should happen within weeks.
Enders Analysis — the TV consultancy which has already written to Cable appealing for him to block News Corp’s Sky takeover on media plurality grounds — estimates that, sometime between 2015-2020, News International and Sky will control 50% of the UK newspaper and television markets respectively. Sky is already bigger than the BBC is terms of broadcasting revenue, earning £5.4 billion compared with the BBC’s £3.6 billion licence fee. “I think the chances of an intervention are very slim indeed,” Enders tells me.
This morning’s Financial Times has called on Cable to investigate the deal. Yet Cable, who’s a Liberal Democrat minister in the government coalition, is experiencing what any British politician – Conservative or Labour – fearful of upsetting the Murdoch press feels right now. Because Murdoch’s power, according to Labour PR adviser Lance Price, is rooted in fear of what he might do as much as in fear of what he has actually done. Murdoch has grumbled he doesn’t understand why Sky News cannot be more aggressively right-wing like Fox — ignoring the UK’s impartiality rules when it comes to news. Meanwhile, Murdoch has already visited conservative Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street.
Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has said it looks as if News Corp already owns Sky, so he can’t see an argument for media plurality. But Lord Puttnam (aka David Puttnam), the Labour peer who used to run Columbia Pictures, has warned that News Corp would have untrammelled control of Sky News if other shareholders are driven out. It’s argued that independent BSkyB board directors such as Gail Rebuck, CEO of Random House, act as a brake on Murdoch influence and maintain the pay-TV broadcaster’s independence.