This post was first published on Left Foot Forward on March 4th 2011
The stable door had been open for a good while before News Corporation tabled its bid for the 61 per cent of BSkyB it did not already own. News Corp already had a significant amount of power within the UK media and, on the face of it, increasing its stake in the satellite broadcaster seemed to consolidate rather than extend this power.
It achieved this position gradually, over the course of the few decades, and within the parameters of existing media regulation.
So by the time it tabled a bid last summer, given the regulatory framework that existed, there was only ever likely to be one outcome. This was made more likely still when the European Commission said in December that “it was confident this merger will not weaken competition in the United Kingdom”.
It is unlikely that, had the bid been referred to the Competition Commission, it would have come to a different conclusion.
Ofcom admitted the limitations of existing regulation in its recommendation to the Secretary of State in January:
“The future market developments explored in this report suggest that the current statutory framework may no longer be equipped to achieve Parliament’s policy objective of ensuring sufficient plurality of media ownership.”
As a result, we can now look forward to a media near-duopoly in the UK – News Corp and the BBC. Not a great outcome for those who care about media plurality. The one positive repercussion – if one is looking for any positives from this decision – is that it will be an awful lot harder in future to shrink the BBC in such a Murdoch-dominated media world.
The law may now be changed – belatedly – to address the limitations Ofcom identified (though don’t hold your breath); meanwhile, the News Corp horse has galloped into the distance.