LONDON — Rival U.K. media companies, including the BBC and Channel 4, have joined forces to urge a senior British pol to intervene in the row over Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to own paybox BSkyB outright.
It is hardly surprising that BBC director general Mark Thompson and Channel 4 CEO David Abraham have signed the petition calling on business minister Vince Cable to block News Corp.’s takeover, because they both compete head-on with BSkyB.
But the fact that the companies behind right-wing newspapers the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph have joined forces with the left-ward leaning Guardian to halt News Corp. in its tracks is without precedent. The Mail and the Telegraph are both supporters of the new Prime Minister, David Cameron, who in turn is supported by Murdoch in Blighty.
The letter, also signed by British Telecom, said that the “proposed takeover could have serious and far-reaching consequences for media plurality.”
The signatories argue that a combined Murdoch U.K. multimedia empire would have revenue of £7.5 billion ($11.8 billion) compared with the BBC’s $7.6 billion.
Thompson was the first to publicly call for Cable to review the proposed deal, “given the scale of the potential ownership in U.K. media,” in a recent interview with Charlie Rose on PBS in the U.S.
In June, it emerged that News Corp. was prepared to pay £8 billion ($12.6 billion) for the 61% of BSkyB it does not own.
If the deal — described by one U.K. media analyst as Blighty’s “Berlusconi moment” — goes ahead, rivals fear that News Corp., which also owns market-leading U.K. newspapers like the Sun and News of the World, as well as quality broadsheets The Times and the Sunday Times, would use its huge market power to bundle together offers embracing TV, print and online.
There are also fears that Sky News, which is bound by local impartiality laws, might be tempted to emulate Fox News if the web was owned 100% by News Corp.
Opponents of the takeover argue that the deal would be outlawed in both the U.S. and elsewhere in Western Europe.
News Corp. said it had not finalized its plans and that its critics are also commercial rivals.