Murdoch warns Brexit Britain
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch's son James, who is the chief executive of the 21st Century Fox TV, has virtually served a warning to the UK Tory government against creating further hurdles in the group's multi-billion pound full takeover bid for Britain's Sky television. The US-based Fox TV already owns 39 per cent of Sky. The warning comes in the shape of a general observation that any hurdles to inward investment in Britain would be detrimental to post-Brexit Britain.
James Murdoch, 44, who was addressing the Royal Television Society convention in Cambridge, spelt out his veiled warning: "Inward investment in the UK creative economy and the positive signal it sends to companies around the world is more important than ever as the UK prepares to chart its course outside the EU." Such an investment strategy was absolutely necessary to demonstrate that the UK "truly is open for business post-Brexit." On his part, he was still hopeful for the Sky bid and looked forward to moving through the government's regulatory review process. He described the Sky bid as a "transformational transaction for the UK creative sector" and an affirmation of his group's claim.
The setback to Murdoch Empire's expansionist moves follows the UK Culture Secretary Karen Bradley's reference to the government's competition watchdog on media plurality in view of the Murdoch family's overarching ownership of news media in the country. The family already controls the mass circulation of Sun newspaper, besides The Times and allied interests.
The reference to the media watchdog, Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), comes as a double surprise to the Murdochs who expect smooth sailing signals from fellow Tory controllers in the establishment. The surprise is all the greater in view of the fact that Ofcom, another "independent" watchdog, had already cleared the Murdoch group as "fit and proper" for 100 per cent takeover of Sky TV. Ofcom is generally regarded as a toothless watchdog.
Karen Bradley referred the deal to broadcasting standards after raising concerns about a lack of compliance procedures at Fox News. Correspondence between Bradley and Ofcom is believed to have shown that the Culture Secretary raised allegations of sexual harassment at Fox News, its discredited story that the murdered US Democrat aide Seth Rich was the source of leaked emails against his own party, and the risk of Fox trying to "Foxify" Sky News.
The Culture Secretary's reference, which could delay the decision by six months or more, is being interpreted as a sign of the weakened authority of Prime Minister Theresa May's wafer-thin majority in the government, which under normal circumstances would have easily cleared the Murdoch bid. Besides, many a Tory faithful, including those of the Daily Telegraph persuasion and others, are cold to Murdoch ventures.
In a dig at the Murdoch patriarch, a Telegraph columnist wrote just a day before Murdoch Junior's Cambridge address: "It could happen again, could it? It's more than six years since Rupert Murdoch abandoned his last bid for Sky in the teeth of the phone hacking scandal, before suffering what he described as the most humble day of his life in Parliament. Much has changed. He has cleaved his empire in two, promoted his sons to lead his businesses alongside him, and got divorced – and remarried." And so the writer chalks the rocky road ahead for the media baron and his family.
On the party political front, Labour party's longstanding opposition to the Murdoch plans is too well known. Former Labour leader, Ed Miliband, has been a trenchant critic of the group. Recounting a litany of stories broadcast by the Murdoch group's wholly owned Fox News TV channel, Miliband writes in London's Evening Standard: "The latest notorious example was its news story in May of this year that a murdered (US) Democrat staffer Seth Rich had leaked thousands of Democratic emails during the (US) presidential campaign.
"The story was retracted a week later. But three months on neither the reporter nor on-air anchors have been disciplined, no explanation has been offered, and the grieving parents of Seth Rich, who saw their dead son's name traduced, have received no apology.
"In the era of fake news it is all the more important we protect trusted news sources from getting into the wrong hands. With a record like this, how can we possibly trust the Murdochs with total control of Sky News."
The Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, another trenchant critic, has said: "The fear is that it (Fox controlled Sky) would be subject to 'Foxification' along the lines of the rabidly propagandist Fox News in the USA. Significantly, Fox News was taken off the air in the UK, supposedly for commercial reasons, but perhaps to avoid reminding us of the poison that could flow in future from across the Atlantic."
Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, son of Lord William Rees-Mogg, the late editor of The Times, has stirred yet another controversy. This time he has said that the increase in the number of charitable food banks in the UK showed a "rather uplifting" picture of a compassionate country. It is estimated that the UK currently has over 2,000 food banks, equivalent to India's 'langar', charities seen frequently outside temples, maths, gurdwaras, and masjids on special days.
Charities across the country say that the year-on-year rise in the amount of food given out over the past decade was driven largely by the government's welfare reforms, benefit delays and sanctions that had left low-income people in a state of financial crisis. Public generosity aside, most people believe that food banks are not inevitable in an affluent country like the UK. Labour MP Ian Lavery said: "The real reason people are going to food banks in record numbers is that the Tories have slashed public sector jobs and living standards over the last seven years, plunging more families into poverty and homelessness.
This kind of comment shows Jacob Rees-Mogg really is the dictionary definition of an out-of-touch Tory." Jacob Rees-Mogg, an erudite prime ministerial candidate, a staunch Catholic father of six, is opposed to same-sex marriage, and against abortion, even in cases involving rape victims.
Also, Britain's first crop of homegrown Indian daals or lentils is being harvested this summer after 408 years since the East India Company's sailor-rep Captain Hawkins's arrival in the court of Mughal Emperor Jehangir.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)