Belfast Telegraph

Ed Miliband urges Government to fight Murdochs over Sky deal

Ed Miliband has urged the Government to fight Rupert Murdoch's bid to gain full control of Sky, saying the media mogul and his family "have learnt nothing and think they can get away with everything".

The former Labour leader said any bid must be wrong when judged by the same standards as Mr Murdoch's previous attempt to take full control, which was derailed amid the fallout from the phone-hacking scandal.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley told MPs she would have 10 days to refer the bid to Ofcom once she had formal notification, which she has not yet received.

But Mr Miliband said it would be "totally and utterly unacceptable" were the deal to be approved over the parliamentary recess, with MPs having their last day in the Commons on Tuesday and not due to return until January 9.

Asking an urgent question on the issue, Mr Miliband said: "This bid shows the Murdochs have learnt nothing and think they can get away with everything.

"If it was wrong for the Murdochs to own 100% of Sky in 2011 and 2012, it is wrong today."

He added: "Can she hear the message loud and clear, that if this House were to return on January 9 to find the waving through of this bid, it would be totally and utterly unacceptable, and fly in the face of the expressed will of this House and the country."

Mr Miliband told the Commons that back in 2011, MPs unanimously urged the withdrawal of the bid for Sky, and in 2012 Ofcom had published "a damning assessment of James Murdoch's behaviour in the running of News International".

"That report only stopped short of declaring Sky as unfit and improper to hold a licence on the basis the Murdochs were a minority owner of Sky, not 100%, and James Murdoch was no longer playing an executive role at Sky," said Mr Miliband.

"Today, James Murdoch is back as chairman of Sky, and chief executive of 21st Century Fox."

He added: "In even launching this bid for 100% of Sky, the Murdochs are seeking to turn the judgment of this House, the regulator and indeed the country on its head."

Mr Miliband also said there had been convictions of senior News International employees for offences such as phone hacking - while part two of the Leveson inquiry, which was due to examine management failures at the company, had still not taken place.

He added: "We all said in 2011 that never again, across this House, would we allow the Murdochs to wield unfettered power, yet here we are all over again."

Addressing the Culture Secretary, Mr Miliband said: "Can she tell us how this bid can even be considered to be in the realm of reality when part two of Leveson, specifically tasked with looking at the failures of News International, has not taken place?

"On the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister said she would stand up to the powerful. If ever there was a chance to prove it, it is today."

Ms Bradley said she recognised this was "an issue of significant interest to the public, and has raised a lot of interest in Parliament, as well as being a significant issue for the parties concerned".

She added that she would take "a quasi-judicial" role in the bid process, which must be "scrupulously fair and impartial".

Ms Bradley said: "I will aim to take an initial decision on whether to intervene on public interest grounds within 10 working days of formal notification of the merger to the relevant competition authority.

"No such formal notification has yet been made.

"Unless and until a formal notification is made to the relevant competition authority, I will not be taking any decisions in relation to the bid."

Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox has tabled a formal £11.7 billion takeover bid for broadcaster Sky.

Fox's offer of £10.75 per share for the 61% of Sky it does not already own values the Game Of Thrones broadcaster at £18.5 billion.

Tom Watson, the shadow culture secretary and outspoken critic of Mr Murdoch, hit out against the proposed takeover.

He said: "We've seen this bid before. I know Christmas is a time for TV repeats, but this one wasn't a hit the first time round and it's no more popular now.

"More than 135,000 people have already signed an online petition calling for this bid to be referred to Ofcom, and the reasons for their concerns is the same as those which caused the previous bid to be abandoned in 2011.

"Do you agree that it would be outrageous if this bid were pushed through over Christmas holidays when Parliament is not sitting?

"Are you not even slightly embarrassed that on the one hand you are consulting to shelve Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry which would look at unlawful or improper conduct in management failings in parts of the Murdoch empire, and on the other hand you are being asked to rule on whether that empire should be expanded?"

But several Conservative MPs spoke out in defence of Mr Murdoch and his bid.

Former culture secretary John Whittingdale said: "While there may well be a case for asking the regulator to look at this bid, will you also recognise that this represents a £12 billion investment into a British company and is a vote of confidence that Britain will remain a centre of international broadcasting after Britain leaves the European Union?"

Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset), whose late father William was editor of The Times which Mr Murdoch now owns, said: "We have seen the true voice of socialist envy, that Sky has provided, thanks to Rupert Murdoch who risked his whole business on it in about 1990, incredible choice to millions of people.

"It is amazingly popular, and instead of decrying this wonderful achievement, we should be proud that it happened in Britain, and we should be proud that this huge investment is potentially coming into our nation.

"I hope you will bear this in mind and will not fall tempted by the siren voices of socialist ingrates."