Just five short years after (literally) eating humble pie live on national TV for presiding over the most corrupt, criminally minded, bin-raking, sleaze-mongering crowd of press hacks ever to spread their poison in the English-speaking world, Rupert Murdoch is back at the door of Sky in the UK, huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf of yore.
Murdoch’s parent company 21st-Century Fox has bid £11.5 billion to buy out the remaining shares it does not already own. This values Sky UK at £18 billion, and will make it the biggest media company in Britain.
Funny how quickly we forget.
Let’s not dwell on the past, though.
No? OK, let’s dwell on the past, just for a minute or two.
News Corp journalists, editors and managers in the UK were prosecuted, convicted and jailed for hacking phones of private citizens on an “industrial scale”, including a murdered child. Rupert’s favourite, Rebekah Brooks, was found not guilty of criminal behaviour, and is now back in charge of News in the UK – result!
With typical personal courage and integrity, both Rupert and James Murdoch denied all responsibility for behaviour at the company they founded, owned and controlled with iron fists, and got away with that (apart from some pie in the eye).
But a long-established, very popular newspaper (News Of The World) was closed as a result. Hundreds of honest, hard-working journalists lost their jobs, and Murdoch was declared “not a fit person” to run a big media company in the UK. He was lucky not to be prosecuted for corporate corruption offences in the US.
But he’s back, and things are different now.
First, there’s a Tory government in power in Britain, unlike the coalition that knocked back the last bid.
Second, the political environment is very, very different. In a world of Donald Trump, truthiness and post-factuality, who really cares if Rupert owns 100% rather than just 39% of Sky in the UK?
To be honest, I don’t. The main worry for those of us who still give a damn has always been Sky News, and the fear that it would become like Fox News, cheerleading and blowharding for the likes of Trump. We didn’t want that in the UK. We wouldn’t stand for it, or so we thought.
Then came Brexit, and frankly, we’ve got bigger fish to fry right now than worrying about the political impact of Sky News UK’s paltry viewing figures on an electorate already gone rogue.
And third, there is no political opposition in Britain anymore. Labour under Corbyn is dead (if still twitching), and the Scottish Nationalists who control Scotland love Murdoch (as indeed he loves them). New Labour’s three terms of majority government is a distant memory, and it’s an alt-right, hard-left, nationalistic free-for-all out there.
The best we can hope for is that everyone in Britain is going to get what they voted for, and that will include a 100% Murdoch-owned satellite news channel in the UK, unleashed and ready to play its part in the coming culture wars. Enjoy!
Brian McNair is Professor of Journalism, Media and Communications, Queensland University of Technology. This article first appeared in The Conversation on 12 December 2016.