News Corporation bid for BSkyB – this time the Government can and must act
The Kraft bid for Cadbury revealed how few powers UK regulators have to act to ensure that mergers and takeovers in the UK act operate in the public interest. However, one of the few areas where the Government does have the right to intervene is to protect media plurality.
If News Corporation’s bid for BSkyB were to go ahead, the resulting concentration of media ownership that the new company would represent would lead to a serious reduction in media plurality, which is a cornerstone of a flourishing democracy. It is would also lead to a substantial reduction in competition in the media sector. The implications for consumers of news and content generally and for other broadcasters – notably the BBC, which the Murdoch empire continually rails against – look bleak.
The Government should insist that scrutiny of this bid is repatriated from Europe and is undertaken in the UK, as is its right given the impact that it would have on the UK media sector. It is essential that the impact on concentration of media ownership and media plurality in the UK, rather than across the EU as a whole, is fully taken into account in assessing the bid.
This bid will seriously test David Cameron’s commitment to putting the public interest before the interests of his party and its media supporters. It will also test the resolve of Vince Cable and the Lib Dems to stick to their principles in the face of pressure from their Coalition allies. If the Coalition partners fail this test, it is the British public that will pay the price, as the benefits of media diversity are trumped by the interests of party politics.