Saturday, July 11, 2009

Murdoch's malign influence demeans British politics | Polly Toynbee | Comment is free | The Guardian

Sky's chief executive replied immediately that it would challenge Ofcom using "all available legal avenues". This time, however, Ofcom is not expected to allow Sky to use the tactic of delaying regulators in the courts for years – it must comply and can appeal afterwards. The battle is on, since historically Murdoch's empire has stooped to manipulating regulators and avoiding taxes. How has he done that? By leaning hard on politicians, who – knowing only too well his dominant voice in newspapers – are frightened for their lives.

Sure enough, the next day his newspapers sharpened their knives. Here is the Sun's Fergus Shanahan: "This is the world gone mad. Ofcom, the official telly regulator, says a successful and popular firm – Sky – must be penalised for doing well … This nonsense – rewarding losers by punishing winners – is Ofcom's way of 'improving competition'. Ofcom busybodies also have the nerve to threaten to dictate what prices shareholder-owned firms like Sky can charge. That's despotic, not democratic, and it's what they do in Russia." No, what they do in Russia these days is to grant monopolies to oligarchs and that's why Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading exist — to prevent it happening here.

Just 10 days later, last Monday, David Cameron made a surprise speech about quangos. His team asked the rightwing thinktank Reform to set up the event at just a few days' notice. It looked like the standard speech made by all oppositions promising cuts in "the quango state". But one astonishing new commitment stuck out, even though it was barely noticed in most reports: "Ofcom as we know it will cease to exist. Its remit will be restricted to narrow technical and enforcement roles. It will no longer play a role in making policy." It would be knocked back to "regulating lightly". Had there been a great popular outcry calling for the demolition of Ofcom? Hardly, since this is obscure, techie stuff. So what was this all about?

Within hours of Cameron's speech, leading market analysts UBS Investment Research assessed the potential impact: "This bodes well for Sky … We believe that a lighter-touch approach would result in a far better and fairer outcome for Sky, the consumer and the pay market. This could result in a valuation of over 750p versus circa 650p under Ofcom's current proposals." In plain English, if the Conservatives come to power and abolish Ofcom, expect a £1 share price rise for Sky – worth some £1.7bn.
Murdoch's malign influence demeans British politics | Polly Toynbee | Comment is free | The Guardian
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