A $66bn question: does Disney love news as much as Murdoch? | Afua Hirsch

Afua Hirsch
Rupert Murdoch wanted his news live, lively and feisty. Photograph: Josh Reynolds/AP

Some people, when I joined Sky News as social affairs editor in 2014, reacted as if I had accepted a job as Rupert Murdoch’s personal spokesperson. I think they imagined me as a kind of early Sean Spicer, Donald Trump’s former mouthpiece, performing a role that involved surrendering all independence and integrity, in support of some dark force.

That tells you absolutely nothing about the reality of working for Sky News as a reporter. The output on the channel – which is as highly regulated and impartial as every other – has about as much to do with Murdoch as the content of The Handmaid’s Tale. Murdoch owns a 30% stake in Hulu, the subscription video-on-demand service which so brilliantly dramatised Margaret Atwood’s work.

At least he did. We now know that his share in Hulu, as well as his stake in Sky News, along with the bid to own it outright, will be passed to Disney in the deal announced last week.

The reaction I experienced may tell you nothing about Sky News, but it tells you everything about the way Murdoch, and everything bearing his name, is perceived. Sky people I know are increasingly confident that the Murdoch takeover bid – currently before the Competition and Markets Authority, a position unchanged by this new Disney deal – will go through. If it does, it is in spite of the political toxicity surrounding his name. There is no legal or factual basis to oppose the deal, lawyers have insisted, the opposition is political, and the politics go deep.

My sources at Sky News are conflicted about the Disney deal. On the one hand, it solves the How Do You Solve a Problem Like Murdoch element to the takeover of Sky. That puts my journalist colleagues in a seemingly more secure position, not least after – in what seemed to me like an undignified move – Sky threatened to close down the loss-leading news channel if closure would help the bid go through.

On the other hand, one thing that’s certain is that Rupert Murdoch loves news. News, and sport. One thing I did glean from my time at Sky News is the extent to which he takes a keen interest in it, and the fact he would like it to be more live, lively and feisty.

Disney on the other hand, is pretty transparent about its interests: 46 million new TV subscribers across three continents, better “direct-to-consumer offerings” from acquiring Murdoch’s share in Hulu – a potential Netflix rival – and Sky’s “high-end technology”, which the Disney CEO Bob Iger enthused could “deliver all this content to consumers in more modern ways”.

These features of the deal attractive from Disney’s perspective are outlined in a statement on the company’s website. What is not mentioned on the Disney website, however, is Sky News. Not once. Did I mention the news channel is loss-leading?

Who knows how much Disney will value the journalists it is inheriting in this deal. And for British consumers of news, so inherently suspicious of anything Murdoch-related, this sale is not quite the clean break from the past they might think. For one thing, Murdoch will now have a 5% stake in Disney. James Murdoch – currently chair of Sky – will soon be working there, if my sources are to be believed. To the extent that the instinctive British suspicion of Murdoch colours people’s views of Sky News, the deal is probably a good thing for perceptions of the channel. Having said that, if the objection to Murdoch has been an inherent dislike of over-powerful foreign-based corporations owning key parts of the British media landscape, this sale represents one powerful, foreign-based corporation selling one of our main news channels to another powerful, foreign corporation. Only the megaliths can survive in the future of broadcasting, it seems. And that leaves everyone a loser.

gal-dem razes the Standard

Nothing makes me happier than the confidence of a new generation of journalists of colour. Last week Liv Little, the editor of magazine gal-dem – the very purpose of whose creation was to disrupt a media landscape which has pushed black voices to the margins – got an email, the kind with which I am very familiar. It was from another journalist seeking to free-ride on the cultural credibility and insight that the gal-dem team have acquired, for his own work. The Evening Standard wanted him to write a “woke guide to Xmas … tips for the average white dude, written by an average white dude”.

Little’s response was superlative. First, she published the email, thereby letting others know the audacity of the kind of requests she receives all the time. Second, gal-dem published its own deliciously sarcastic “How to Have a Woke Christmas”, complete with a man wearing a “Straight Outta Lapland” jumper. “Why not just throw the n-word into Hark the Herald Angels Sing? I mean, if Jay-Z can say it …”

Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, the deputy editor at gal-dem, then appeared on Newsnight, asked to justify the magazine’s approach. It shouldn’t need justifying. If an average white dude wants to write a woke guide to Christmas, then he should not need to borrow from gal-dem. And if he wants to borrow from gal-dem, then it’s not an average white dude’s guide to Christmas after all, is it?

As with all things cultural appropriation-related, the objection is not that all things “woke” are the intellectual property of black journalists, or that we are somehow out to police other journalists’ content. It’s the context, as old as race itself it seems, where people of colour originate ideas, originality, and innovation, and someone else takes credit. Enough is enough.

Mail’s unwanted posters

Dominic Grieve, the Tory rebel behind Theresa May’s Commons defeat on the EU withdrawal bill, was in fine fettle after the drama of last week. I was on a panel with him at at the Human Rights Lawyers Association review of the year, where he received a standing ovation from a room full of human rights lawyers for taking a stand in favour of accountability.

I should have known how serious things were for him when I saw this. For a Conservative to be loved in the human rights community is to be equally and oppositely reviled by the populist right. Apparently the former attorney general has been receiving death threats. It’s not surprising when you look at the Daily Mail’s front page last week, which one journalist described as “akin to placing a large ‘wanted’ poster on their front page”. It was very much in the vein of the Mail front page that cast our senior judiciary as “enemies of the people”, because they had the audacity to apply the rule of law to the Brexit process. It’s also in a context where Jo Cox, an MP, was murdered by someone who disliked her liberal views. The Mail says it thinks Brexit will make Britain a better country, but it clearly has no intention of leading by example.

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