On the evening of decision by Culture Secretary to give the green light to Murdoch’s proposed takeover of BSkyB, the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (CPBF) and the NUJ held at demonstration outside Hunt’s office, just off Trafalgar Square. It was well attended (over 30 at one time including west London MP John McDonnell), considering it had been called at a few hours notice and drew much support from passers-by (for pics go to: http://www.marcvallee.co.uk/pictures/Protest/NUJ-Murdoch-Protest/

Two days later, writing in the Guardian on Saturday 5 March, columnist Polly Toynbee wrote; ” …I joined the the small picket line of mainly middle-aged journalists outside the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to protest when the announcement was made. Doing something, making an objection, however futile, seemed better than doing nothing…”

Well we can do more. First this travesty of an agreement is subject to ‘public consultation’, until 21 March – so tell your MP and Hunt to reject the BSkyB deal and send the whole issue to the Competition Commission for a full-scale enquiry – post to bskyb-newcorp.consultation@culture.gsi.gov.uk

Second you can sign the petition put out by 38 Degrees to send your MP a quick email at: http://www.38degrees.org.uk/bskyb-murdoch-whitewash

Finally for more background, read the article below by the CPBF’s Granville Williams (written for the left wing magazine Red Pepper). 

Murdoch and BSkyB – what the papers said

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s decision on 3 March to give the green light to Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of BSkyB provoked sharp reactions the next day from most of the UK press not already owned by News Corporation.

The exception was the Daily Express.  Not a word there about it. Its proprietor, Richard Desmond, admires Murdoch and anyway doesn’t want to draw attention to the fact that, disgracefully, he was allowed to takeover Channel 5 without a whimper from Ofcom. The main story, true to form, in the Express was about European Union immigrants flooding into the UK to live on benefits.

But what is striking about the rest of the press coverage on the BSkyB takeover was a real sense of outrage and fear about the threat that a combined News Corporation/BSkyB poses to the future viability of UK media. As the Daily Mirror editorial ‘Mr Hunt’s dirty deal’ put it, ‘The consequences of this shabby deal are clear. One person will have a huge commercial advantage, allowing him to bully and dominate the media industry in this country.’ Coincidentally, shares in Trinity Mirror, the paper’s parent company fell 22 % even though profits are up, on the same day as the announcement.

The Daily Mail raged that the deal created ‘a behemoth that would disadvantage smaller companies, leaving consumers with less choice and inevitably higher bills…It would be naive to believe that it won’t use this awesome power to grow ever larger.’ The Daily Telegraph’s editorial, ‘A body blow to the notion of a vibrant, diverse press’ made the key point: ‘One thing that Mr Murdoch likes…is a monopolistic business environment. His career in the British media has been punctuated by attempts to drive out rival titles – including this one –out of business, often through predatory pricing. That tactic will become a good deal easier to do if this deal goes ahead.’

And of course they are right to be fearful – and not just newspapers. News Corporation is one of the top five global media groups and already controls over 37% of national newspaper circulation in the UK. There is intense competition for both advertisers and readers in the national newspaper market, but the financial strength of the company means that it is able to absorb losses to gain market share. On present trends this is likely to increase to over 40.5% in three years time.

The company also has three state of the art printing facilities built at a cost of £650 million in 2008. The plant in North London is the biggest printing centre in the world. Its twelve full-colour presses can each print 86,000 copies an hour. Together the three plants have the capacity to print the whole of the UK press. Currently, apart from printing The Times, Sunday Times, News of the World and The Sun they also print the Daily and Sunday Telegraph.

BSkyB dominates subscription satellite broadcasting and it has just announced its six-monthly results. Revenue rose 15% to £3.19 billion and profits 26% to £467million. A month ago it launched a heavily-advertised new channel Sky Atlantic which provides exclusive viewing of all HBO programmes (The Wire, Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire) and the popular Mad Men, previously on the BBC. The BBC said they could not compete with BSkyB’s bid for the series.

In a year’s time BSkyB’s revenues will equal the combined revenues of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. That’s why Rupert wants total control of this fabulous revenue flow.

A merged company would completely dominate UK media. It would create the media equivalent of a black hole whose sheer power can damage or destroy other media.

So what can be done? Short term we need to respond to the consultation which closes on 21 March. A massive wave of protest has to demand that Hunt does send the whole issue to the Competition Commission for a full-scale enquiry, as Ofcom originally recommended. But there is a broader and more important issue here, which goes right to the heart of media power and democracy. The weaknesses of the UK’s pathetic rules on media ownership have been dramatically exposed by this episode.

The future of the media cannot be decided in deals hammered out behind closed doors. Our media and democracy deserve more. There has to be a better way. It is time there was a major review of media ownership and regulation.

The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom supports the idea of a Media Commission which would ensure the widest public involvement and consultation in the development of media policies.