For a while this week it felt as if we’d slipped back five years, as Ed Miliband and Vince Cable dusted down their criticisms of Rupert Murdoch. 21st Century Fox’s bid for Sky saw the former Labour leader take to Twitter like a student protester. “Do we want Rupert Murdoch controlling even more of [the] media landscape?” he asked. “No,” he then answered.
1/Do we want Rupert Murdoch controlling even more of media landscape? No. Government must refer bid for Sky to CMA/Ofcom— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) December 9, 2016
Meanwhile, former LibDem grandee Sir Vince Cable declared that “ministers must act” - before adding the cryptic hashtag: #MurdochMysteries. It was in 2010 that the left’s favourite pantomime villain last attempted to swoop for the part of Sky (then called BSkyB) that wasn’t owned by News Corporation, and the current bid has activated all his old enemies.
But things are different now. Since the last takeover bid, Murdoch’s News Corporation has been split into two: a new News Corporation, which comprises the newspaper and publishing side of the business; and 21st Century Fox, the entertainment side of the business. This means that a 21st Century Fox takeover of Sky would not see the broadcaster become part of the same business as News UK, which publishes the Times, Sunday Times and Sun. Media analysts are confident that the bid would survive a plurality investigation. Liberum’s Ian Whittaker observed in a note that “the UK government is keen to promote investment in the UK post-the Brexit vote. We doubt therefore it would want to veto what could be viewed as a major sign of confidence in the UK market”.
If Miliband, Cable et al really want to get fired up about dominance in the media market, they should turn their fire on the giants of Facebook and Google, both of which have become publishing platforms and both of which are hoovering up digital advertising revenue at the expense of traditional publishers. Indeed, according to Enders Analysis, 90 per cent of this year’s growth in digital advertising spend accrued to Google and Facebook. Let’s see if Miliband tweets about that.
Stars and cigars at top City celebration
This week, City favourite Boisdale held its annual Cigar Smoker of the Year awards. Legendary host Ranald Macdonald conceded that cigar smokers are not “a perfectly representative selection of modern society” but nevertheless revelled in the subversive nature of the night. As did Kelsey Grammer upon picking up the Cigar Smoker of the Year award - noting that he was beaten last year by Arnold Schwarzenegger in what he compared to a “rigged election.”
Southern rail gets City workers riled up
I’ve been canvassing City views on the Southern Rail strike. One eminent free-market voice tells me the government should give in to the unions and see service restored. This is not a man usually found on the side of union intransigence, so things must be bad. Another ground-down commuter says the government should call Sadiq Khan’s bluff and hand the whole show over to City Hall, who can then be blamed for the misery that’s set to continue.
Bring Farage in from the cold
It’s becoming increasingly clear that Nigel Farage enjoys excellent relations with the incoming White House team, and that they in turn view him as a valuable sounding board on all matters Brexit. With this in mind, the government’s insistence that “we don’t talk to Nigel” is starting to wear thin. I understand the former UKIP leader has been visiting New York and Washington this week, talking to law makers and key Trump advisers. No 10 should ask him for a read out. They need the help.
All change on US diplomatic circuit
Talking of Trump, he’ll soon be appointing a new ambassador to the UK as Matthew Barzun packs his bags. I liked Barzun – he hosted excellent parties and had good taste in whisky and music. Rumour has it that billionaire New York Jets owner Woody Johnson is being lined up for the London gig while the equally sensitive role of US ambassador to the EU could go to Ted Malloch, a great free-marketeer. He tells me over lunch that he’s considering the job...