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News Corp takeover of BSkyB would be anti-democratic

A union flag in gold and blue BECTU's submission backs a reference to the Competition Commission.

16 November 2010

BECTU has added its voice to the many who will be expressing their fears for the future of media pluralism in the UK if Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation is permitted to own 100% of BSkyB.

The union's submission to Ofcom's public interest consultation makes it clear that News Corporation's further expansion into UK media would threaten media pluralism and undermine impartiality.

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Ofcom's consultation closes on 19 November; the regulator is expected to report to the secretary of state for business, Vince Cable, by the end of the year.

The union's submission, authored by research officer, Andy Egan, states:

"The broader cultural and democratic role of the media means that limits on excessive concentration of ownership in this sector are even more necessary than the normal competition controls in the rest of the economy.

Healthy democracy

"For a healthy democracy, we need to ensure diversity, representativeness and freedom of expression by allowing a plurality of views and interests to be expressed through the media. The power of the media not just to reflect but to form opinion makes such controls all the more necessary.

Challenging those who state that a shift in ownership would make no difference, BECTU says:

"We do not accept the argument that increasing News Corp's stake in BSkyB from the existing level of 39 per cent to 100 per cent will make no difference in practice. BSkyB currently has an independent editorial structure, a separate board with independent directors and a different shareholding structure. Moving to 100% ownership will remove all such institutional barriers and independent interests, leaving BSkyB in the direct and immediate control of News Corp."

Impartiality would suffer

On the threat to impartiality, BECTU argues:

"We note that the impact of media coverage on public perceptions and democratic debate is not just influenced by balance and impartiality within the coverage of each issue but by the underlying selection of issues to cover and the setting of the news agenda. A dominant media owner can exert significant and, we believe, undue influence over which issues are covered and how they are prioritized. This undermines any narrower concern for impartiality and is unhealthy for democratic debate."

Through its submission, BECTU urges Ofcom to recommend to Vince Cable that News Corp's proposed bid be referred to the Competition Commission.

BECTU's submission in full


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