Victims of press abuse argue that without Leveson Phase 2 taking place, the take-over of Sky by Fox would be unsafe and disreputable.
“We believe that it is unsafe and contrary to the public interest for a major British broadcaster to be wholly owned and run by those with such a shocking record of governance without proper scrutiny.”
This follows from the hacking and bribery scandals that led to multiple criminal convictions, the subsequent findings of contempt of parliament by a parliamentary committee, and continuing civil claims by victims of their publications’ wrongdoing.
The Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, must now decide whether to refer the bid to Ofcom on public interest grounds. She may specify “media interest” grounds for referral which can be based on plurality concerns (as with the previous referral in 2010), but she is also at liberty to specify further grounds by order laid before both Houses of Parliament.
Hacked Off is also calling for immediate implementation of the second phase of the Leveson Inquiry, in order to expose the full story of corporate cover-ups and criminality which caused so much distress to thousands of victims of press misconduct, and damaged confidence in the integrity of the police and prosecution authorities
Commenting, Dr Evan Harris, Hacked Off Joint Executive Director, said:
“Everything we know about James Murdoch’s conduct while Chief Executive of News Corporation suggests that he is wholly unsuitable for an executive role at a fully Murdoch-owned Sky. Their newspapers have been lobbying aggressively against phase 2 of Leveson, which suggests there is plenty still to emerge.”
“We are asking the Secretary of State to place the public interest above the Murdochs’ editorial and commercial agendas and refer this bid for independent scrutiny by Ofcom. She should use her power to specify further public interest grounds of fitness and propriety of ownership, as well as applying appropriate plurality tests that take into account market dominance, and demanding safeguards to ensure the editorial independence of Sky News.
“Holders of broadcasting licences are required by Ofcom to be “fit and proper” under the Broadcasting Acts, but this ongoing statutory duty of Ofcom does not apply to those bidding to become licence holders. This loophole can and should be addressed by the Secretary of State referring this bid to Ofcom on these grounds”.
Ofcom’s 2012 “fit and proper” examination of Sky – then BSkyB – found in its favour, but expressed serious reservations and was highly critical of the management and corporate governance record of James Murdoch at News International. Ofcom pointed out that at the time Murdoch was only a director and his company did not own 61% of the shares. Now, however, he is Chairman and if the bid goes through, 21st century Fox (of which James Murdoch is the CEO) would own 100% of Sky.
Press target Christopher Jefferies who was libelled and monstered by some national newspapers commented:
“Plenty of evidence has emerged since the 2012 Ofcom report to demonstrate that James and Rupert Murdoch’s record at News International was worse than suspected. There are unresolved allegations of a long and detailed cover-up, including lying to Parliament and the destruction of evidence. Moreover, the person responsible for the failures of editorial control and management, Rebekah Brooks, has been reappointed by the Murdochs even after her admissions of failure. Such disregard for UK corporate governance standards would not be tolerated in any other industry.”
Alastair Morgan, whose murdered brother Daniel is the subject of the longest running British police murder inquiry and who is calling for phase 2 of the Leveson Inquiry to demand the truth about his brother’s murder commented:
“We believe that it is unsafe and contrary to the public interest for a major British broadcaster to be wholly owned and run by those with such a shocking record of governance.
“The Government should proceed with Leveson phase 2 without delay – and certainly before the Murdochs are allowed to complete the takeover of a British broadcaster – as was promised to the victims of press abuse.”
- The Terms of Reference of the Leveson Inquiry include “3. To inquire into the extent of unlawful or improper conduct within News International…” and “6. To inquire into the extent of corporate governance and management failures at News International and other newspaper organisations, and the role, if any, of politicians, public servants and others in relation to any failure to investigate wrongdoing at News International”.
- The 2012 Ofcom report into whether Sky was fit and proper to hold a broadcast licence, and which was highly critical of James Murdoch, can be found here.
- Hacked Off is the campaign for a free and accountable press, and we work with the victims of press abuse to achieve those aims.