Tuesday. 25 October 2016

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Ofcom to review Sky TV’s ‘fit and proper’ status to broadcast

TV regulator to re-assess Sky after Exaro exposes secret recordings of Rupert Murdoch

Surely, this constitutes significant new evidence that you are bound to consider

Ben Bradshaw, MP, speaking to Ofcom’s chairwoman

Television regulator Ofcom is to examine the secret recordings of Rupert Murdoch to re-assess whether Sky TV should hold a broadcasting licence in the UK.

An Ofcom source told Exaro that the regulator was obliged to examine evidence exposed by Exaro that Murdoch knew for decades that his newspaper journalists were bribing police and other public officials.

Ofcom has come under growing pressure to review whether Sky, in which the Murdoch-controlled and restructured 21st Century Fox owns 39 per cent, is a ‘fit and proper’ company to hold a licence to broadcast.

The Murdoch recordings led detectives to open a fresh line of enquiry in ‘Operation Elveden’, which is investigating payments to public officials by journalists. Police are also investigating allegations that a company in Murdoch’s media empire sabotaged Sky TV’s biggest rival, On Digital.

Meanwhile, MPs on the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee recalled Murdoch to answer questions – probably in September – about the private comments that he made in a meeting with journalists on The Sun who were arrested under Operation Elveden.

The evidence published by Exaro includes a full transcript of the secretly recorded meeting.

Ofcom is the UK’s regulator for the communications industry, including television. Its official position is to avoid making public comments about any ongoing review.

A spokesman for the regulator told Exaro: “Ofcom has a duty to be satisfied on an ongoing basis that the holder of a broadcasting licence is ‘fit and proper’. We would assess any new and relevant evidence that would help us discharge this duty.”

MPs on the media committee concluded in a report in May last year that Murdoch was “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”

The report was on the phone-hacking scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World, which was published by Murdoch’s News International.

The committee pressed Ofcom to draw a similar conclusion.

But, after investigating the phone-hacking affair, Ofcom ruled in September that Sky was ‘fit and proper’.

It nonetheless condemned Murdoch’s son, James, former Sky chairman who occupied several senior roles in his father’s media empire.

Ofcom said that his conduct over the phone-hacking fallout “repeatedly fell short”, although his non-executive directorship at Sky did not impact on its ‘fit and proper’ qualification. It said in the ruling: “Ofcom considers that, on the evidence currently available and having taken into account all the relevant factors, Sky is fit and proper to hold its broadcast licences.”

The ruling added that Ofcom may review the issue “should further evidence become available.”

Ben Bradshaw, a Labour member of the media committee and a former culture secretary, pressed Ofcom’s chairwoman, Colette Bowe, about whether the regulator would re-assess Sky’s fitness to broadcast when she was giving evidence to MPs a fortnight ago.

He asked: “Will you be reviewing your ruling on the ‘fit and proper persons’ test from last September in the light of the recent recording of Mr Murdoch?”

She replied: “We will always take into account any relevant evidence. I am not prepared at this stage to say any more than that.”

Bradshaw pressed her, saying that Ofcom’s ruling was “fairly finely balanced” and based “on the evidence currently available”.

“You went on to say, ‘Should further evidence become available, we might review that.’ Surely, this constitutes significant new evidence that you are bound to consider.”

Bowe declined to answer, saying that it was not right for her to discuss the issue “in this forum”.

Claire Enders, media analyst and founder of Enders Analysis, said that the Murdoch recordings would force Ofcom to re-visit the question.

But, she believes, Murdoch would be forced to stand down as chairman and chief executive of 21st Century Fox long before Ofcom ruled that Sky was not ‘fit and proper’.

She said: “The transcript of Rupert Murdoch talking to the Sun staff arrested for possible bribery offences suggests that News International knew of extensive criminality for many years.”

Exaro released the first compilation of Murdoch clips three weeks ago. The second was released a fortnight ago.

Murdoch later told friends that he felt hurt by the leak.

If you have information – including any recordings – that might help our investigation, please contact us.

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