Is Ofcom 'Fit and Proper'?
Ofcom, the regulator of broadcast in Britain, has been making quite a fuss over its duty to impose a ‘fit and proper person’ test on News International before allowing their takeover of BSkyB to go ahead. The test is a positive tool, in a democracy where so much of public opinion is mediated, facilitated and translated through broadcasters - and especially through their news and current affairs packages - it's only reasonable that we assess whether the proprietors are people we can and should trust with that responsibility. But the great weight being attached to this test, now, and the focus on applying it to the Murdochs risks undermining the principle of fairness and equal oversight in our regulation of who does, and who doesn’t, broadcast in the UK. Because nowhere near as much attention has been given by Ofcom to other broadcasters - even ones whose crimes are, arguably, much greater than anything contemplated by a handful of journalists in Wapping.
As Stephen Pollard, the Editor of the Jewish Chronicle, has pointed out Ofcom clearly deem Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a ‘fit and proper person’ to own a UK broadcaster. His regime owns and controls Press TV, which broadcasts news, discussion and current affairs here in Great Britain. That would be the same Iranian regime that routinely uses its own press to promote misleading propaganda favourable to the Government, promotes anti-Semitism and which has a habit of executing journalists who fail to tow the line. According to Ofcom, these are 'fit and proper' persons.
Or what about Russia Today, whose role as a propaganda service for the regime of Vladimir Putin is well documented? I have to confess to having appeared a couple of times on 'RT' - and always found their staff and interviewers well mannered and pleasant - but their output has found time to apologise for Serbian atrocities in Bosnia and to pursue particularly vociferous opposition to our intervention in Libya (both very much in line with Putin's policy outlook). Oliver Kamm of the Times has very effectively demolished RT's claim to be a serious broadcaster of news (you can watch the clip here) - but, again, according to Ofcom these are ‘fit and proper’ people.
There are more, of course. Many have questioned Richard Desmond’s appropriateness as owner of Channel 5. But it all leads us to ask whether Ofcom is really capable of taking a decision on Rupert Murdoch’s fitness to own Sky. On the one hand they have shown that they are so flimsily weak as to be unable to raise pertinent questions - such as why should a foreign Government that oppresses and murders journalists at home (a characteristic of both Russia and Iran) be able to broadcast propaganda in Britain. On the other, by making such a public fuss of their role in the BSkyB process, that they are particularly biased against Murdoch (who, whatever else he may have done, has never assassinated members of the press). Either way, I wouldn't trust Ofcom to judge who is ‘fit and proper’ going on their track record of appalling decision making in this field. Perhaps they could earn some credibility to pursue and judge the Murdoch family by revisiting some of their past errors - starting with the British propaganda arms of both the Putin and Ahmadinejad regimes?