Church of England opposes Murdoch BSkyB bid

By staff writers
23 Nov 2010

The Church of England has come out in opposition to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.’s £7.8 billion ($12.4 billion) bid for the rest of British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc.

The Church joined newspapers and other broadcasters in resisting the deal yesterday.

Both the Church of England and Methodist churches disinvested from BSkyB when it launched the Playboy Channel in 1995.

The Business Secretary Vince Cable has directed media regulator Ofcom to review whether the takeover of Britain’s largest pay-TV operator by the owner of four of the biggest-selling UK newspapers would give too much media control to News Corp.

UK newspapers, the BBC and BT have called for the bid to be challenged.

In a submission to Ofcom, the Church's spokesman on media issues, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester, said: "There is an ongoing need for strong and effective regulation of cross-media ownership and media plurality. In Lord Puttnam’s words, the ‘overriding interest of the citizen’ demands that there should be no diminution in the range of views and voices that can hold government and other interests to account. It is important to preserve a healthy media environment in which many different and diverse organisations, including public service broadcasters, can flourish.

"Our concerns are not about the nature of News Corporation: indeed, we would make these comments whichever commercial organisation might find itself in a potentially dominant market position.

"A News Corporation in full control of BSkyB would combine one of the three significant suppliers of TV news (BBC, ITN and BSkyB), one of the two suppliers of radio news (BBC, BSkyB) and the group with the biggest market share of national press in the UK. It would dominate both the television and newspaper landscape.

"Many critics of the bid have highlighted the potential dangers to the integrity of Sky News. Sky News has won a well-deserved reputation for innovation and the quality of its journalism. Though BSkyB is not a public service broadcaster, Sky News contributes to public service purposes in the broadest sense. Even though its market share is small it has, for example, often been an influential voice in political debate. If BSkyB comes under the full control of News Corporation, however, the fear is that even though Sky News would still have to abide by requirements for due impartiality, there would always be the potential for the exercise of subtle editorial influence, not least in the process of selecting which news items are to be covered and which left out.

"In the case, therefore, that the bid is allowed, the public have a right to expect, at the very minimum, an assurance that the independence and editorial integrity of Sky News will be preserved. Even if the News Corporation bid is not allowed, it would be a positive commitment to media plurality if BSkyB were to take the opportunity to reassert its existing commitment to the editorial independence of Sky News and its continuing contribution to public service purposes."

Commenting on the Church’s statement, Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the thinktank Ekklesia which monitors and analyses the Church’s investment policies said: “What is notable about this intervention is that the Church holds no big shareholdings in News Corporation or BSkyB having disinvested on ethical grounds many years ago.

“The Church has justified the maintenance of shareholdings in controversial companies over the last few years on the basis that this gives it sway in the decisions that companies make. But here we see the church campaigning on an issue despite having no financial interest. Indeed, the Church may well be in a position to speak out more forcefully and effectively, since it has no direct financial interest which might compromise its position."

[Ekk/2]

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