The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Monday, 11 July 2011

A Piece Of Sky

So let me get this straight. In a few months, it may turn out to be the case that News Corp is found to not be ‘fit and proper’ to own BSkyB, and thus may end up having its takeover bid rejected.

Which, I daresay, will be presented as some sort of victory for morality and justice.

But, even if their takeover bid is rejected, News Corp will still own 39% of BSkyB. Which may sound like a minority stake but is, in fact, a controlling share. This means that News Corp effectively owns and runs BSkyB now (as is obvious, their Chairmen are father and son), thus influencing the editorial stance of its news output, directing policy, taking a chunk of the profits, etc. To quote The Economist; ‘If there is a problem with Mr Murdoch controlling Sky, the problem already exists: an outright purchase does not create it.’

Which, to me, seems odd. Surely if News Corp is found to be not ‘fit and proper’ to purchase BSkyB outright, then News Corp is not ‘fit and proper’ to have a controlling share in it either. Either News Corp is ‘fit and proper’ to run a UK TV station or it isn’t.

What this illustrates is a discrepancy in the 1990 Broadcasting Act, that the ‘fit and proper’ test only applies to a company wishing to have a broadcasting license (which News Corp would effectively be if it owned 100% of BSkyB) but not to companies which might have a controlling share in a company with a broadcasting license.

So when – if – News Corp fails to gain overall control of BSkyB due to being found to not be ‘fit and proper’, politicians will present it as a moral victory, and when it is pointed out to them that News Corp is still, to all intents and purposes, the owner of BSkyB, I expect they will probably just wring their hands and say there is nothing that can be done about it.

When, of course, there is something they can do about it. They can change the terms of the 1990 Broadcasting Act to apply the ‘fit and proper’ test to companies with controlling shares.

It will be interesting to see if the political will is there. Lots of politicians of all parties seem to be delighting in their newly-acquired testicles, but will they have the courage to take the public’s disgust with the behaviour of News Corp to its logical and ethical conclusion?