Thursday 17 July 2003

Murdoch's Extended Reach

We should be worried once again about Rupert Murdoch. For unless swift action is taken, Murdoch--and the conservative political causes he supports--will soon become an even more powerful presence in the United States and the world.

Murdoch is on the cusp of fulfilling a longstanding ambition that will finally give him a global network of powerful orbiting, interactive, direct broadcast satellites. Imagine a torrential downpour of dozens of Fox News Channels targeting major US cities; a super-broadband site continuously promoting the viewpoints of the Weekly Standard; and the ability to focus similar political messages simultaneously in Asia, Europe and North and South America. Murdoch's proposed control of DirecTV, the country's leading direct broadcast satellite (DBS) service, will ultimately harm the interests of those seeking greater political and social justice, let alone quality news and entertainment programming.

But despite the outpouring of opposition to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) new media ownership rules, Murdoch's DirecTV grab is expected to win quick approval from federal regulators. In addition to its more than 11.5 million DBS subscribers, Murdoch will also manage the assets of Hughes Electronics, DirecTV's parent company, which will give Murdoch's News Corp. increased clout over programming in Latin America and in the global broadband and video marketplace.

Hughes Electronics is currently a subsidiary of General Motors, which has been trying to sell off the satellite company for several years. GM initially spurned Murdoch and sought almost two years ago to have DirecTV's only major competitor, EchoStar, purchase the company. Livid at the rejection, Murdoch engaged in an elaborate political campaign to derail the deal, including, according to the Wall Street Journal, mobilizing the opposition of politically well-connected religious broadcasters. News Corp. also hired former New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams to generate opposition from local and state policy-makers. The Bush Administration's October 2002 rejection of DirecTV's merger with EchoStar was undoubtedly shaped by Murdoch's relentless--and well-funded--opposition.

Suddenly finding itself with only one possible suitor, GM quickly agreed to Murdoch's terms, which will give him working control of Hughes and a 34 percent stake in the company. Both the FCC and the Justice Department's antitrust division are expected to consent to the merger by this fall. Republicans in Congress, not surprisingly, praised Murdoch and the deal. Democrats did express some concern, especially at a private meeting with Murdoch. But no serious opposition has yet surfaced.

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