MEPs warn of report showing ‘high risk’ to UK media, as Murdoch’s Sky takeover decision looms

European Parliament, Strasbourg, France, 15/06/2017

Plurality in the UK media is at “high risk” in terms of its high levels of concentration of ownership and the influence these owners exert on editorial content. That’s according to a new report from theCentre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom.

The worrying new findings come just ahead of the deadline (June 20) for Ofcom’s recommendation on the proposedmerger between Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox and Sky.

Approval of the deal would create a new media behemoth in the UK, with Fox’s owner Rupert Murdoch adding an imposing position in the TV news market to his commanding stake in the national newspaper, radio and online news markets. As the study makes clear, this has worrying implications for how UK citizens get their news.

The results were presented during a roundtable hosted by British MEP Neena Gill CBE.

“Ofcom’s  decision over whether the Murdoch family is ‘fit and proper’ to take control of Sky will be a landmark decision that shapes the future of British media,” Ms Gill said, “but this will have much wider implications than any one media owner. We saw in last year’s referendum and the more recent UK general election that a partisan media can threaten our democracy by spinning the truth.”

During the “Media Pluralism: What risks for democracy” event, the dangers of such high levels of concentration were highlighted by European representatives and stakeholders from across the 28 Member States. MEP Julie Ward (S&D, UK) commented “The results of the study are timely. I would urge Ofcom to take the evidence into account, and think twice about approving a deal that would put the UK amongst the worst performers in terms of the narrowness of its media ownership”.

Italian MEP Brando Benifei, one of four MEPs who addressed a letter to Ofcom warning of the dangers associated with the sky/fox merger, commented “this is a European issue. With media ownership highly concentrated right across the EU, as this new study shows, governments must think carefully about how they can best promote a plurality of voices in their national media.

Jelena Dzakula of the London School of Economics (LSE) presented the results of the UK section for 2016, pointing particularly towards the levels of concentration in the TV and newspaper sectors, levels which are only increasing. She also made note of the unusually high levels of influence of owners and commercial interests on editorial content in the UK.

Scientific coordinator of the Media Pluralism Monitor, Elda Brogi, placed the UK results in the broader context of the 28 EU Member States. Whereas the UK’s risk level in terms of horizontal concentration was scored at 83%, the EU as a whole scored 71%. Meanwhile, for owner’s influence on editorial content, the UK was given a sky-high score of 92% compared to the EU’s 56%.