Wise words about a media mogul that too few people are willing to challenge:
Alan Rusbridger, the editor-in-chief of the Guardian, today stepped into the debate over whether Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation should be allowed to take full control of BSkyB, by warning of the “chilling effect” that “one large media company can have on public life”.
Giving a lecture in Murdoch’s native Australia, Rusbridger said that the revelations of phone hacking at the News of the World illustrated “the nature of the problem” when one media group becomes too powerful in the UK.
The controversy, Rusbridger said, “raises questions which are not so much about hacking, troubling as those are, but about how other forces in society – whether it is other media organisations, the police, the regulator or parliament itself – behave when faced with the muscle of a very large, very powerful and sometimes very aggressive media group”.
He added that “something is dangerously out of kilter” when MPs such as Adam Price on the Commons culture, media and sport select committee confess they have been “held back” from probing into News Corporation’s affairs because of “fear of what that company might do to them” – or when former employees are “too frightened to speak publicly about what they know” .
In June, News Corporation proposed an £8bn buyout of the 61% of satellite broadcaster BSkyB it does not already own, a deal that would bring together the largest newspaper group in the UK, with nearly 40% of the average daily sale with the largest broadcaster by turnover. Combined, the two companies would have a turnover of £7.5bn, compared to the BBC’s £4.8bn.
Rusbridger queried whether it could be “good public policy to allow a still greater concentration of power across not just one wing of the Fourth Estate but two”. He said that while it was possible to come up with “all kinds of metrics” to justify the merger on competition grounds, “it would still feel wrong”.
He said that the argument about the proposed buyout was not about the individual merits of Rupert Murdoch as a media owner, warning instead that “there’s no one I would want to have that much power” – whether it was the BBC, the moderator of the Church of Scotland or even Sir David Attenborough.