Sky News

So, Rupert Murdoch will be able to buy BSkyB, but only if he makes Sky News an arm’s length operation.

Rupert Murdoch

The issue is one of news pluralism. Murdoch represents a significant media magnate for the first time attempting to link both print and broadcast media.

Some media organisations, for example, the Guardian, are naturally opposed to this and have made their concerns clear to Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary. Hunt along with his boss, Cameron, have paid many visits in recent weeks to Murdoch Towers. Purely social, of course. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/organgrinder/2011/jun/20/news-corporation-rupert-murdoch?INTCMP=SRCH

The political concerns have been largely commercial; notably, the impact of cross-advertising of newspaper titles and general television entertainment. But let us not forget all of that phone tapping that has been going on within the Murdoch newspapers; particularly disturbing is the news today (4 July) that those journalists tapped into the mobile phone of Milly Dowler that may have impacted on the police investigation into her murder (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/jul/04/milly-dowler-voicemail-hacked-news-of-world). Maverick journalists, of course.

These worries are bad enough, but when one reads the adulatory words of former Sun editor Kelvin McKenzie in Friday’s Guardian (1 July 2011), one can see that the plot has not been understood. MacKenzie’s headline, ‘Thank God for Murdoch’, is sufficiently illustrative of his position. It is true that Murdoch was bold in building his satellite TV operation. The risks were high and he has been rewarded for taking them. But Sky News is a problem. It is not, argues MacKenzie, Fox News in the US. That is a very interesting statement. It suggests, rightly, that Fox news is far from plural, unbiased and legitimate. Whether Murdoch would want to turn Sky News into Fox News is a debateable point (would it serve his objectives in the UK?), but the maintenance of particular news values are certainly important.

Those values have served him well and maintain him as a serious power broker in UK politics despite being neither a UK national nor being elected. Good journalism is an essential part of any healthy democracy, but power of the Murdoch flavour is such that journalists do not need to be asked to ‘report’ in the right way. They do it as a matter of course. In Bachrach and Baratz’s famous phrase, this is the ‘power of non-decision making’. Journalists instinctively know what is the right way to do their (Murdoch’s) journalism.  Murdoch simply does not need to make that call to the editor to achieve compliance.

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