Media Matters for America submitted a report to the United Kingdom’s chief competitions watchdog illustrating the havoc that 21st Century Fox and the owners, the Murdochs, would wreak on the British media landscape if their bid to take over Sky PLC is approved. The report was submitted amid revelations that Rupert Murdoch, his sons, and 21st Century Fox attempted to suppress another wave of public scrutiny around Fox News’ sexual harassment epidemic in January of this year.
Dealing a blow to the Murdochs’ hope for a swift approval, U.K. Culture Secretary Karen Bradley referred 21st Century Fox’s bid to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) for investigation on grounds of both broadcasting standards and media plurality. This followed an investigation by the U.K.’s chief broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, and calls for further investigation by members of Parliament and advocacy groups. Marking the second phase of an in-depth investigation, the CMA announced on October 10 that it would conduct a thorough look into the impact of a Fox-Sky merger on broadcasting codes and media plurality.
Media Matters raised the following issues for the CMA to consider in its investigation:
- 21st Century Fox is not serious about changing the overall culture at Fox News even in the wake of sexual harassment allegations made public. The company’s attempted cover-up of sexual harassment allegations against then-host Bill O’Reilly in January is the latest window into this reality. Beyond Fox News, there has been a long-standing pattern of harassment and discrimination in other Murdoch-owned media outlets that cannot be ignored.
- British regulators should not fall for claims that specific Fox News programs -- like Fox & Friends and Hannity -- should be exempt from British broadcasting standards because they are “non-news” programs. The line separating opinion and news programming at the network at-large is a convenient fiction that viewers are unaware of and showrunners ignore. This was recently evidenced in the fabrication and promotion of the FoxNews.com story about the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.
- Fox News’ latest partisan political coverage and prime-time lineup, and conflicts of interests among hosts and contributors, raise questions about 21st Century Fox’s commitment to impartiality standards, as set out in British broadcasting code.
- Fox News and other 21st Century Fox-owned broadcast outlets have demonstrated no improvement in reporting news with due accuracy and excluding offensive material across the network’s programs.
In the report, Media Matters also recommended that the CMA request further information from 21st Century Fox about the status and findings of internal investigations regarding the now-retracted FoxNews.com Seth Rich story, workplace harassment and discrimination, and new compliance standards the Murdochs claimed to implement in May of this year.
Media Matters has actively opposed 21st Century Fox’s takeover of Sky News since it was first announced. On March 30, Media Matters submitted, in partnership with global activism group Avaaz, a report to Ofcom that detailed the risks Murdochs' desired takeover of Sky poses to British broadcasting standards. Media Matters and Avaaz had previously submitted a report to Bradley demonstrating that the risk of “Foxification” of Britain’s public debate is too great for Bradley to simply rubber-stamp a Murdoch takeover of Sky.
Rupert Murdoch abandoned a previous bid for full ownership in light of an investigation into a mass phone hacking scandal at his U.K.-based newspapers. Following an investigation, a parliamentary report found that Murdoch was “not a fit person” to run a major corporation and that his son James had showed “wilful ignorance” of the industrial-scale hacking. In September 2016, it was reported that Fox News had engaged in similar tactics, hacking the phone of a Media Matters reporter.