Authorities sometimes seem to be losing touch with the realities of the world with which they engage. BBC News announced that the British Competition and Markets Authority has blocked the takeover of Sky by Fox on the basis that it would allow the Murdoch Family Trust, “too much control over news providers across all media platforms, and therefore too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda.” An announcement that the merger had been blocked because it was contrary to other commercial interests would be more persuasive; the suggestion that it would allow too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda does not bear scrutiny.
Firstly, the Murdoch media are already unambiguous in the opinions they express and the agendas they pursue. It seems unlikely that the takeover would bring about any change whatsoever in the editorial stance. It seems odd that a public body charged with monitoring competition and markets should express sensitivity regarding political viewpoints; there has been no tradition of authorities seeking a balanced expression of political views, had there been, the British media might look very different. Perhaps the Fox takeover of Sky might have brought news coverage more akin to that in the Unites States, where partisanship is obvious. Perhaps that might not have been such a bad thing, an abandonment of the pretence of objectivity that characterises the British media. Everyone would have known that the media were pursuing a polemically right-wing agenda and, accordingly, might have discounted the credibility they attached to the stories.
Secondly, and more significantly, the Murdoch media may remain very profitable entertainment platforms, but their capacity to influence public opinion and the political agenda is waning. The British general election of June 2017 was conclusive proof that the traditional media, whether newspapers in print or online, or television news and current affairs programmes, have experienced a substantial decline in the power they once commanded. The unanticipated success of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, in polling in excess of 40% of the popular vote at a time when pollsters were predicting a large drop in support, points to the fact that there are cohorts of younger voters who either do not engage at all with the traditional media, or, if they do, entirely ignore the political opinions expressed. The vitriol with which the Murdoch media attacked Corbyn failed completely to dissuade millions of voters from supporting a radical agenda, and failed to deliver the resounding Conservative victory for which they had hoped. Younger voters seem not to be influenced by the platforms about which the Competition and Markets Authority have expressed concern.
The Authority itself must be aware of the political realities, thus a suspicion that their concerns are about issues other than opinion and politics.