Advertisement

Lord Grade: 'Rupert Murdoch is no longer public enemy number one'

Lord Grade says 'Rupert Murdoch is no longer public enemy number one' Credit: ITV News/PA

Twenty First Century Fox - a company the Murdoch family holds a controlling stake in - is bidding for full ownership of Sky - a company it already effectively controls.

The Murdoch name excites strong passions and it's no surprise that the Minister, Karen Bradley, has therefore decided to refer the takeover to OFCOM for scrutiny.

The official reasons for doing so are twofold:

1) plurality - will the deal unacceptably diminish the variety of journalism on offer in Britain?

2) broadcasting standards - whether Fox is "fit and proper" to take control of Sky's broadcast licence

Twenty First Century Fox - a company the Murdoch family holds a controlling stake in - is bidding for full ownership of Sky Credit: Matthias Balk/DPA/PA

You may recall that a similar takeover bid in 2011 gained OFCOM approval only to unravel rather spectacularly after it was revealed that journalists at the News of the World – then owned by News Corp - had been merrily hacking phones to get stories.

In 2011 the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, BT, Trinity Mirror and the Telegraph, Guardian and Mail newspapers groups collectively tried to get the deal blocked on competition grounds. It's a coalition that appears not to have reformed.

This time around only the Guardian plans to formally object to the takeover, the rest appear more relaxed.

"The landscape has changed, this deal is going through" a source at one of the companies told me. "Why throw yourself in front of a train?"

The rise of smart phones, the internet and social media means the way people access news has changed greatly in a short space of time.

An OFCOM survey in 2015 found that Facebook is a more popular news source than either Sky News or the News Corp newspapers - Times, Sunday Times, Sun and Sun on Sunday.

Facebook doesn't employ a single journalist, the content is someone else’s. It will be fascinating to see what view OFCOM takes.

Lord Grade, the former chief executive of ITV and Channel 4 and the former chairman of the BBC, believes the Fox takeover of Sky will be allowed to proceed.

"I can't see any good reason to stop it. I think the world has moved on. There's so much choice today, anyone can start a news channel, broadcasting is open to all-comers," he told ITV News.

Grade once called Rupert Murdoch "Public Enemy Number One" but he told me that he no longer holds that view. "In those days he had a power and a political clout that he doesn't have today."

Grade believes newspapers and free-to-air broadcasters have more pressing concerns than a tie-up between Fox and Sky. "Advertising money is moving to digital. Businesses are declining at a rapid rate...Google is trying to eat their lunch, quite aggressively".

Even some of Murdoch’s fiercest opponents privately believe the “plurality” concern is unlikely to be upheld by OFCOM, they are pinning their hopes on the “fit and proper” test.

James Murdoch is the chief executive of Fox, the chairman of Sky and he was CEO at News Group Newspapers when the hacking scandal erupted.

In September 2012 OFCOM concluded there was “no reasonable basis to conclude” he was involved in any wrong-doing and that Sky was fit to hold a broadcast licence.

OFCOM has 40 days to deliver its conclusions.