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Dirty Digger or fit and proper?

Keith Gladdis and Adam Batstone

As Culture Secretary Karen Bradley announces her intention to subject Rupert Murdoch’s bid for control of Sky TV to further scrutiny, MHP’s Media Unit puts two differing perspectives on the proposed deal.

Adam Batstone, joined MHP after a 20 year career at the BBC, while Keith Gladdis, worked for News International before joining the Daily Mail.

Putting the squeeze on Auntie

A new played called Ink opened in the West End of London this week telling the story of how a maverick Australian newspaperman arrived in the UK almost 50 years ago with the intention of shaking the Poms up a bit – writes Adam Batstone.

While Rupert Murdoch has never lacked ambition or chutzpah, it’s doubtful that even he would have predicted that all these years on, his business empire would dominate the global media landscape and the be the subject of fraught political argument at the very top of government.

The fact that Murdoch’s proposed take over of Sky by his Twenty First Century Fox company is such a big deal commercially and politically is testament to his extraordinary success, power and influence. But is it a desirable outcome for the UK media landscape?

As a former BBC journalist, I have the utmost respect for Sky News as a brilliant rival to the BBC and only a fool would say Sky has not contributed vastly in terms of technical innovation and brilliant production. Watching sport on TV today could not be more different to how it was 30 years ago. But despite these undoubted benefits, I remain unpersuaded that Murdoch dominance is good for Britain.

Sky is a thorn in the side of the BBC – that’s no bad thing – but with its vast wealth and resources, there is a real risk Murdoch could gradually squeeze the life out of Auntie, leaving her only the bits of output that he has no interest in, I’m thinking Songs of Praise and The Moral Maze.

For all its faults, the BBC is not one man’s play thing and it is staffed by people who care deeply about the principles of impartiality and diversity. One of the reasons for his extraordinary success is that Rupert Murdoch cares deeply about Rupert Murdoch. Granting him even more influence over the UK media is unnecessary and unwise.

A changing media landscape

When I was Deputy Political Editor for the News of the World one of my duties on a Saturday night was to write something called the KRM memo – writes Keith Gladdis.

This was an email to brief the editor of the main political events of the week to help with her end of day telephone call from the chairman, Keith Rupert Murdoch.

Make no mistake of it, Rupert Murdoch loves politics and expects his editors to have an intimate understanding of everything that is happening in Westminster and beyond.

He revels in the power and influence being a so-called media baron affords him and that is why Culture Secretary Karen Bradley says she is minded to refer his bid for Sky to the Competition and Mergers Authority.

But the media landscape today is hugely different to that of 2011 when the News of the world hacking scandal led to him shelving his first takeover attempt. Warnings now that taking control of Sky would put too much power into the hand of a single man look far less compelling.

Firstly, claims that the deal would see the brilliant Sky News transformed into a UK version of the Fox News have always been misplaced, the UK has rules to ensure the impartiality of broadcasters.

And the political influence of Murdoch’s newspapers The Sun and The Times has also declined with the rise of social media and the increased clout of Google.

Significantly Sky is no longer the unrivalled broadcasting phenomenon it once was. Back in 2011 Sky was riding on the success of its revolutionary Sky+ box and the hunger for HD television.

Now Sky’s business model is under attack from Netflix and Amazon raising questions over how much longer customers will be willing to pay more than £60 a month for premium channels they barely watch.

One thing that hasn’t changed since 2011 however is the suggestion that Murdoch isn’t a fit and proper person to take full control at Sky. Back then it was phone hacking now it is claims of a culture of sexual and racial harassment at Fox in the United States.

Sky hasn’t been immune to this kind of scandal in the past as the sackings of sports presenter Richard Keys and Andy Gray revealed. But it is hard to believe great talents like Sophy Ridge and Kay Burley would tolerate any Fox News style culture changes at Sky.