38 Degrees report to the CMA’s 21st Century Fox/Sky merger inquiry

About 38 Degrees

We work to make our society fairer by holding the government to account and by calling on businesses to improve practices.

38 Degrees is totally independent of all political parties. We are funded through small donations from our members.

Anyone can become a 38 Degrees member – you simply have to take an action with 38 Degrees, from signing a petition, filling out a survey or making a donation. 38 Degrees has 2,558,896 active members from all walks of life, and every corner of the UK.

Member profile

76.6% of active members are in England, 9% in Scotland, and 4% in Wales.

40% of active members are male, and 60% are female.

38 Degrees members represent a large range of Mosaic groups and vote for all political parties.

Introduction

38 Degrees members have significant concerns about the impact of media concentration and conglomeration on democracy in the UK. With other partner groups in 2011, 38 Degrees members played a big role in opposing and stopping Rupert Murdoch’s bid for BSkyB.

38 Degrees members have continued their efforts to stand up for a fair, balanced, and diverse British media landscape amidst 21st Century Fox’s (21CF) renewed bid to take 100% ownership of Sky. More than 300,000 members have participated in 38 Degrees’ campaign to stop this merger by signing petitions, writing to MPs, donating money to fund research, and submitting evidence directly to Ofcom and the Competition and Markets Authority’s investigations on the merger. Over 40,000 38 Degrees members have directly submitted their own views on the merger to the CMA over the past week.

This report is meant to provide evidence of the concerns 38 Degrees’ members – and the general public – hold about the proposed merger and its perceived impact on the UK’s political and media landscape. It consists of analysis of a large-scale survey conducted of 53,439 38 Degrees members, and three rounds of public opinion polling conducted by YouGov, to provide a picture of what the wider public thinks about the proposed merger. This is further supplemented by comments which represent the themes of feedback we received from 53,439 members and key data drawn from expert research reports.

Taken in conjunction with expert, material evidence submitted by other groups, we submit it provides strong indication that the UK public do not believe it is in their best interest for this deal to go ahead.

Key findings

An overwhelming majority of 38 Degrees members, and the British public, do not think the 21st Century Fox/Sky merger should go ahead.

When asked ‘Do you think that Rupert Murdoch, through his company 21st Century Fox, should be allowed to take 100% ownership of Sky?’

98% of 38 Degrees members answered ‘No’

The views of 38 Degrees members are corroborated by those of the public. Three separate YouGov surveys, conducted on behalf of 38 Degrees in March, July and October 2017, found in answer to the question:

Table 1: Do you think Rupert Murdoch, through his company 21st Century Fox, should or should not be allowed to take 100% ownership of Sky?

8-9 March
Sample Size – 1557 GB Adults
5-6 July

Sample Size – 1648 GB Adults

19-20 October

Sample Size – 1603 GB Adults

Should be allowed 7% 7% 8%
Should NOT be allowed 69% 76% 69%
Don’t know 24% 17% 23%

Media Plurality

On the issue of media plurality, 38 Degrees members and the general public are unequivocal in their belief that if allowed to go ahead, the merger would concentrate too much media power in Rupert Murdoch’s hands.

When asked ‘Do you think giving Rupert Murdoch 100% control over Sky would give him too much power over the UK’s media?’

98% of 38 Degrees members answered ‘Yes’

The YouGov polls commissioned by 38 Degrees confirmed that these views are held by the general public:

Table 2: Do you think giving 21st Century Fox 100% ownership of Sky would or would not give Rupert Murdoch too much power over the UK’s media?

8-9 March
Sample Size – 1557 GB Adults
5-6 July

Sample Size – 1648 GB Adults

19-20 October Sample Size – 1603 GB Adults
Giving 21st Century Fox 100% ownership of Sky would give Rupert Murdoch too much power over the UK’s media 67% 74% 66%
Giving 21st Century Fox 100% ownership of Sky would NOT give Rupert Murdoch too much power over the UK’s media 9% 7% 7%
Don’t know 24% 19% 27%
With respect to media plurality, the CMA’s Issue Statement setting the scope of 21st Century Fox/Sky merger investigation indicates it is “assessing whether there will be a sufficient plurality of persons with control of the media enterprises serving audiences in the UK following the Transaction”. We submit that in the view of the public, there will not be a sufficient plurality of persons with control over UK media enterprises.

Ofcom’s Public Interest test on the proposed merger indicated that if allowed to go ahead, Fox/Sky and News Corp combined would have the third largest total reach of any news provider. Their report argues that “the proposed transaction would give the Murdoch Family Trust material influence over news providers with a significant presence on television, radio, printed newspapers, and online.”

Further, evidence produced by the Media Reform Coalition and Avaaz indicates that Ofcom’s findings understate the market reach, share and impact of the merging parties’ combined media properties due to their dominance in wholesale news provision and leading presence on intermediary platforms such as Facebook.

Here are the concerns of one 38 Degrees member, on the control Rupert Murdoch exerts over the UK’s media:

“A healthy press will cover diverse opinion across the country. Murdoch is already in control of far too much of this nation’s press coverage and has proved to be an irresponsible and potentially corrupt operator.”

Lynne Whittemore, 38 Degrees member from Pembrokeshire

Broadcasting Standards:

With respect to broadcasting standards, there are high levels of distrust amongst 38 Degrees members and the general public more broadly about whether the “merged entity post-Transaction will have a genuine commitment to broadcasting standards objectives”, including a commitment to neutrality and proper corporate governance.

Commitment to neutral and fair reporting

When asked ‘Do you feel that Rupert Murdoch and his company can be trusted to have a commitment to fair and neutral reporting at Sky News?’

96% of 38 Degrees members answered that he ‘Cannot be trusted to be fair and neutral’

The YouGov poll commissioned by 38 Degrees confirmed that these views are held by the general public:

Table 3: Taking everything into account, do you feel that Rupert Murdoch and his company can or cannot be trusted to have a commitment to fair and neutral reporting at Sky News?

19-20 October Sample Size – 1603 GB Adults
CAN be trusted 5%
CANNOT be trusted 68%
Don’t know 27%
Here’s one 38 Degrees member voicing their concerns about Rupert Murdoch’s commitment to neutrality:

“Murdoch has had a negative effect on the plurality and neutrality of British media. He should not be allowed further control.”  

Gabrielle Crisp, 38 Degrees member from West Sussex

The public’s wariness about the commitment of 21st Century Fox and other Murdoch Family Trust companies to broadcasting standards is not merely a matter of perception. In the process of gathering evidence for its public interest test, Ofcom found that Fox News “did not have adequate procedures in place to ensure compliance” with the UK’s Broadcasting Code.

Corporate governance

When asked ‘Do you feel that Rupert Murdoch can be trust to run his business ethically?’

85% answered that he ‘Cannot be trusted to run his business ethically’

The YouGov poll commissioned by 38 Degrees confirmed that these views are held by the general public:

Table 4: Taking everything into account, do you feel that Rupert Murdoch and his companies can or cannot be trusted to uphold corporate standards? (ensuring their employees are treated fairly, will not experience racial or sexual discrimination, and his companies do not engage in criminal activities.)

19-20 October Sample Size – 1603 GB Adults
CAN be trusted 8%
CANNOT be trusted 61%
Don’t know 31%

Phone hacking and sexual harassment:

Rupert Murdoch’s last bid for Sky was ultimately withdrawn due to the phone hacking scandal. Precipitated by this fallout, Ofcom carried out a fit and proper person test in 2012. Their ensuing report was extremely critical of James Murdoch, concluding, “His conduct … repeatedly fell short of the exercise of responsibility to be expected of him as CEO and chairman.

Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that Bill O’Reilly made a $32 million settlement to end a sexual harassment lawsuit, after which Fox News renewed his contract. These recent allegations of sexual harassment and racial discrimination at Fox News in the US further suggest a pattern of corporate failure at Murdoch Family Trust controlled companies.

Here are the views of one 38 Degrees member, whose concerns about Murdoch’s corporate compliance stem from the phone hacking scandal at News of the World:

“It isn’t just television but newspapers. We already saw what happened with News of the World in defiance of UK laws. The ethics of these companies controlled by Murdoch are questionable.”

Andrea Titterington, 38 Degrees member from Lancashire

Trust in Sky:

These concerns would likely manifest in an erosion of the public’s trust in the quality of Sky News’ reporting.

When asked ‘If Murdoch gains full control of Sky TV, how would this affect your trust in Sky News reporting?’

91% answered ‘I’d trust Sky News less’.

One 38 Degrees member explained that their trust in Sky would be reduced if taken over by 21st Century Fox:

“Allowing Murdoch to takeover will minimise my trust in Sky as a  25 year customer and will make me far more open to their competition as the public in general don’t like or trust Murdoch.”

Gail Priestley, 38 Degrees member from Leeds

Media Influence on Public Opinion and the Political Agenda

For 38 Degrees members and the general public more broadly speaking, the deal is particularly concerning because of its potential impact on the UK’s political landscape.

Ofcom referred to the potential impact of the merger on UK’s political process in their public interest report when they suggested “the transaction could increase the perception among some politicians that members of the Murdoch Family Trust are more able to shape the editorial direction of Sky News, in order to favour one side of the political debate over another.”
When asked ‘Do you think the Sky takeover deal would give Rupert Murdoch too much power over UK politics and politicians?’

98% of 38 Degrees members answered ‘Yes’

Several 38 Degrees members raised considerable concerns with regards to Murdoch’s power over UK politics, including concerns over his access to politicians and his power to influence public opinion:

“Murdoch is already too powerful, and this would exempt him from any kind of democratic accountability. He already interferes too much in our politics.”

Alan Matthews, 38 Degrees member from Dorset

These concerns are shared by the wider British public, as found in three separate YouGov surveys, conducted on behalf of 38 Degrees in March, July and October 2017:

Table 5: Taking everything into account, do you feel that Rupert Murdoch, through his media ownership including the newspapers The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times, has too much, not enough, or about the right amount of power and influence over British Politics?

8-9 March
Sample Size – 1557 GB Adults
5-6 July

Sample Size – 1648 GB Adults

19-20 October
Sample Size – 1603 GB Adults
Too much influence 60% 67% 61%
Not enough influence 1% 1% 1%
About the right amount of influence 5% 8% 6%
Not applicable, I do not feel Rupert Murdoch has any influence over British Politics 10% 7% 8%
Don’t know 24% 18% 24%
Rupert Murdoch and his executives already enjoy unparalleled access to key politicians. Media Reform Coalition analysis on meeting returns from government departments and found that between April 2015 and September 2016 – the period preceding the government’s consultation on Leveson 2 and the Fox/Sky merger announcement – executives of Murdoch-owned companies met the Prime Minister and Chancellor more than any other media organisation.

Impact of the Merger

Underlying this are broader concerns of 38 Degrees’ members and the general public about the impact of the merger on the democratic process. Members overwhelmingly argued that a well functioning democracy depends on a fair and diverse media, and identified that the merger would erode their trust in British media as an institution, and British democracy as a whole.

When asked ‘Do you think that having a media that includes different viewpoints and provides fair and accurate reporting is important for democracy?’

99% of 38 Degrees members answered ‘Yes’

96% of members felt that Rupert Murdoch did NOT have a commitment to fair and neutral reporting.

98% felt giving Rupert Murdoch full control of Sky would give him too much power over the UK media.

As a result, 38 Degrees members feel that the Sky takeover would be detrimental to democracy in the UK.

Here’s the opinion of one 38 Degrees member, who emphasised the importance of a free press as a key tenet of democracy, and expressed concern that this would be further eroded by the Sky takeover:

“A free press that reflects a range of diverse views is a pillar of democracy. Such a free press is one that is not owned by a few powerful but one where many different views compete with each other in the public sphere so that citizens can see all sides of a debate and make a judgement. This clearly will not happen if Murdoch increases his power in the media.”

Winifred Greenhalgh, 38 Degrees member from Manchester

“It isn’t just the politicians who could be influenced by Mr. Murdoch’s power over the UK’s media. It is the people who would be in danger of having less access to differing views and differing decisions about what to public and what emphases to put on facts and information.”

Polly Rushton, 38 Degrees member from Herefordshire

Public opinion of the CMA

This erosion of trust extends to public institutions such as the CMA who are publicly perceived as safeguards for the public interest.

When asked ‘If the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) approved the Sky takeover deal, how would this affect your trust in them?’

94% of 38 Degrees members answered ‘I’d trust the CMA less’

Several 38 Degrees members commented on their views of the CMA and how they would be changed by a ruling in favour of the Sky takeover. These comments centred around the need for the CMA to protect the public interest and to remain neutral:

“Surely the purpose of the CMA is to defend ordinary citizens against just such a concentration of media power in the hands of proven unethical owners?”

Robert McConnochie, 38 Degrees member from North Ayrshire

“If a neutral CMA cannot be trusted, there is no point in having one.”

Joanne Toomey, 38 Degrees member from The Wirral

“We need the CMA to stand up to the Murdoch empire – if it doesn’t we will sadly have no trust at all left in the CMA.”

Pat Armstrong, 38 Degrees member from Arfon

The views of 38 Degrees members echo the sentiment the public displayed in a YouGov survey, conducted on behalf of 38 Degrees in March 2017, regarding the Ofcom decision on the 21st Century Fox/Sky merger.

Table 6: If Ofcom allow 21st Century Fox’s takeover of Sky to go ahead, do you think they will or will not be failing to protect public confidence in broadcasting?

27th – 28th March
Sample Size – 1576 GB Adults
Will be protecting public confidence in broadcasting 12%
Will be failing to protect public confidence in broadcasting 54%
Don’t know 34%
This sentiment is indicative of a wider loss of trust and perceived confidence in public institutions – not only regulatory bodies such as the CMA or Ofcom, but in media as a whole, as suggested by this member:

“Lack of governance and accountability within the corporate structure evidenced by the way the phone hacking was handled has eroded trust in the media. To see this company gain more power despite no changes made to those in charge will further erode that trust.”

Sue Sole, 38 Degrees member from Norfolk