Let News Corp keep BSkyB
By Chris Hughes
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
News Corporation should be allowed to keep its 39 percent stake in UK pay-TV group BSkyB. British MPs may be right when they say founder Rupert Murdoch isnât âfitâ to run News Corp and turned a blind eye to wrongdoing in its UK operations. But a regulatory review of BSkyBâs fitness to broadcast isnât the place to remedy these failings.
The proven and alleged wrongdoings in News Corpâs UK newspaper business – ranging from phone hacking to bribing public officials – are grave. The immediate response should be criminal prosecution and dismissal of the individuals concerned. It doesnât follow that media watchdog Ofcom should kick News Corp out of UK television.
True, News Corpâs handling of the newspaper scandal canât be ignored. The company admits there was a local cover-up. For years, group management didnât probe the UK subsidiaryâs activities in spite of worrying evidence pouring into the public domain. This serious controls failure merits a response too. Shareholders, already sick at Rupert Murdochâs cavalier approach to their strategic concerns, have rightly pushed News Corp to tighten its systems and change its culture. Securities regulators may also have an enforcement role: assurances that phone hacking was confined to one rogue reporter were misleading.
Ofcomâs specific task is to consider whether âany relevant misconductâ by the individuals who control BSkyBâs broadcasting licence means they are not âfit and properâ to do so. That test would be applied to Rupert and James Murdoch as News Corp chief executive and deputy chief operating officer. Ofcom might consider that their supervisory failings meant misdeeds at BSkyB could be covered up as easily as they were at News International. But history shows that its primary concern is, rightly, whether a News Corp-controlled BSkyB would continue to respect UK media regulation. Itâs hard to say BSkyB wouldnât.
The political noise in the UK surrounding News Corp may make it harder for Ofcom to be impartial. But the watchdog is supposed to be independent. However much one may dislike the Murdochs, thatâs no reason to undermine the integrity of a regulatory framework which makes Britain a good place to do business. Ofcom must think straight – and do whatâs best for viewers.