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The British government's Murdoch dilemma

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The British government's Murdoch dilemma


The British government has a dilemma over News International.

There is no way that it can justify to the people why the BSkyB takeover deal should go ahead. On the other hand there aren’t many politicians around who would be willing to upset Rupert Murdoch.

The fact that Murdoch’s takeover bid of British Sky Broadcasting will be referred to the Competition Commission may work well for both the bidder and the government.

There are “strict legal requirements” that the government has to follow if it disagrees with the deal, according to Nick Watt, chief political correspondent for the Guardian. The government’s referral decision means that the deal will be delayed for at least a few months.

The delay will be “very beneficial for Murdoch, as the deal could not go ahead now,” Mr. Watt said in a telephone interview. “Public opinion would simply not wear it.” Give the scandal a few months to die down however, and that might change. The government will have also bought some time and avoided a confrontation with either public opinion or News International. That is one possibility.


The Sunday tabloid News of the World, which published its last edition on July 9 after being in print for 168 years, has been in the eye of the phone hacking storm for the past four years. The scandal became politically toxic only recently after it emerged that not only celebrities, but also families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan might have been victims.

Killing off the NOTW, the best-selling UK Sunday newspaper, was a commercial decision by Murdoch to show that the company has taken its punishment, the critics argue. And although the price is quite high (one of the best-known brands in print journalism is gone), in Britain, News Corp is still left with the Times, the Sun and the Sunday Times. It may even make up for losing the News of the World by printing the Sun on Sundays.


News Corp already owns 39 percent of BSkyB, but wants full control as it eyes profits from the UK’s biggest private broadcaster in the face of shrinking revenues from newspaper advertising. However, there have been calls for the Murdoch machine to drop the bid, both from within the government and from the opposition Labour Party.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg asked urged Murdoch to “look how the country has reacted with revulsion to the revelations” of phone hacking and reconsider his position on the BSkyB bid. Opposition Leader Ed Miliband echoed the same message, saying that “the first thing he should do is to drop the bid”.

Members of Parliament from all parties are expected to approve a motion on Wednesday that requests Murdoch withdraws his bid.


But in the eyes of British politicians, just how scary is Murdoch today? It was only a few months ago that members of parliament clearly talked about fear of the Murdoch press. The controversy may have changed that.

“The days of Rupert Murdoch as a man that people will fly halfway around the world to see, whose phone calls get taken, are over,” Bloomberg News cited Tim Bale, professor of politics at Sussex University and the author of ‘The Conservative Party From Thatcher to Cameron’ as saying. “All the party leaders have been distancing themselves.”

What makes Murdoch scary to MPs is his influence – through his newspapers – on public opinion. If the public loses its trust in his newspapers, that influence fades.

By Ali Sheikholeslami
London Correspondent

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