A top broadcast labor union that represents many BSkyB employees is criticizing the British government's handling of News Corp.'s bid to take over the company and blasting News Corp. for engaging in "unethical practices on a grand scale."
BECTU, an independent media labor union, also expressed concerns about how News Corp. might treat BSkyB employees in the wake of News Corp.'s decision to abruptly shut down News of the World. News Corp. has continued to employ Rebekah Brooks, who was News of the World's editor during part of the hacking scandal, and Les Hinton, who was Brooks' boss.
"I think it's safe to say that neither News International nor News Corp will be winning any prizes for fostering good industrial relations given their decision last week to close the News of the World," Sharon Elliott, BECTU communications officer, said in an e-mail Tuesday. "Our experience is that any company which is part of the Murdoch empire is wholly pragmatic; they operate in terms of the best interests of the business and not of their people."
In the past, BECTU had unsuccessfully urged Conservative culture and media secretary Jeremy Hunt to refer the News Corp./BSkyB deal to the Competition Commission for review -- an action that would have considerably slowed down approval of the deal. After the latest phone-hacking revelations, however, News Corp. itself forced the issue to be referred to the Competition Commission, a move apparently aimed at preventing the government from blocking the deal altogether.
"This is what BECTU called for from the outset, but the [referral to the Competition Commission] now in the face of the seismic developments of last week appear more focused on helping the government to save face given its previous complacency on these critical issues," Elliott told Media Matters in another e-mail Tuesday. "Murdoch too would appear to see the [referral] as a way of keeping the bid alive given the exposure of unethical practices on a grand scale which make the preferred, more cosy arrangement with the UK government a non-runner."
BECTU does not formally represent staffers at the non-union BSkyB for purposes of collective bargaining. But Elliott said British law allows staffers to seek representation from the union for grievances and labor-related issues on an individual bases.
BECTU has opposed the News Corp. takeover of BSkyB for months with several strong statements and actions aimed at stopping the effort and warning of its potential effects.
A December 2010 BECTU statement warning that media impartiality would suffer as a result of the deal:
We note that the impact of media coverage on public perceptions and democratic debate is not just influenced by balance and impartiality within the coverage of each issue but by the underlying selection of issues to cover and the setting of the news agenda. A dominant media owner can exert significant and, we believe, undue influence over which issues are covered and how they are prioritized. This undermines any narrower concern for impartiality and is unhealthy for democratic debate.
A March 2011 BECTU statement:
BECTU also places on record its "severe reservations" about the procedure followed by the secretary of state, Jeremy Hunt, who despite a previous commitment to take the advice of the regulator in referring the planned takeover to the Competition Commission, opted instead to grant News Corp the privilege of "a series of private discussions with regulators, without any public scrutiny leading to the reluctant and unconvincing undertakings" announced in early March. BECTU believes that News Corp's promise to guarantee the independence of Sky News in a spun off company is not meaningful given the news provider's commercial dependence on News Corp/BSkyB for 85 per cent of its revenue and 25 per cent of its costs.
BECTU also urges Ofcom to scrutinise News Corp's promise of editorial independence for Sky News. News Corp made similar undertakings in response to opposition to the takeover of The Times and Sunday Times in 1981 and to the takeover of the Wall Street Journal in 2007.
"Post-takeover none of these publications are considered in any way editorially-independent of the interests of News Corp," says BECTU.
A July 5, 2011, BECTU posting on its website that stated:
BECTU has criticised the concessions made by News Corporation to smooth its path towards the takeover of BSkyB as a 'weak and totally inadequate settlement.'
BECTU's latest statements follow recent concerns from the National Union of Journalists over the BSkyB takeover and the News of the World shutdown.
In a statement issued Monday, NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: "It is vital that this deal is halted until the results of the criminal investigation and the public inquiry are publicly available. A survey carried out at the weekend shows that only one in ten members of the public believes Murdoch is a 'fit and proper person' to run BSkyB - a damning insight into the scale of public anger about this scandal."