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News Corp & BSkyB: union urges referral to Competition Commission

BECTU has warned against the impact of granting more control over UK media to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Even faced with the phone hacking scandal, the government appears powerless to act.

5 July 2011

BECTU has criticised the concessions made by News Corporation to smooth its path towards the takeover of BSkyB as a "weak and totally inadequate settlement."

The criticism is included in the union's latest submission on the issue which concludes with a further appeal to culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to refer the planned merger to the Competition Commission.

Read the latest submission in full

On 30 June, Mr Hunt confirmed his intention to accept the undertakings offered by News Corp to allay real fears about the impact of the merger on media plurality. On the face of it, this acceptance is subject to a further period of public consultation set to close at noon on Friday 8 July.  Sign the petition to stop Murdoch.

Grounds for competition concerns

BECTU's submission accuses the minister of skirting the central issue of competition in his latest statement.

"We reiterate that the merged company would be the largest private media company ever seen in the UK, predominating over every other British media organisation and with a reach across all significant media platforms. If this does not give legitimate grounds for competition concerns - whatever would? The minister's response rings hollow," says BECTU.

The union argues in addition that whilst proposals to guarantee the cross-promotion of Sky News on other Sky channels would assist the financial performance of Sky News, that this measure would not guarantee the independence of the channel from News Corp.

BECTU is also unconvinced by News Corp's proposals to shore up Sky News' editorial independence given the company's poor track record in keeping previous promises connected to the takeovers of The Times, Sunday Times and the Wall Street Journal.

The union's submission also notes the minister's failure to comment on Ofcom's call for a review of the statutory framework "to ensure plurality in the public interest in the longer term." 

Actions will limit range of voices in UK media

The union's submission concludes:

"Judging by his actions, rather than his words, we see no basis to accept the Secretary of State's claim that he is 'committed to maintaining the free and independent press for which this country is famous'. On the contrary, we believe his actions and decisions will seriously undermine media pluralism in the UK.

"We therefore call on the Secretary of State to refer the proposed merger to the Competition Commission rather than accept this weak and totally inadequate settlement."

BECTU has been urging the government and the industry regulator, Ofcom, to act in the public interest since the planned merger was first announced last November. See our related news stories.

 

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