Rupert Murdoch has bossed around prime ministers for decades, and talks to Donald Trump most days. So when he launched his £12 billion bid for Sky last December, he and many others thought it would be a breeze.
But then Avaaz and allies stepped in, with killer evidence, whistleblowers from Murdoch companies, a legal challenge and public protests.
First we delayed the British government’s decision, then we persuaded it to launch a full probe into Murdochs’ dirty secrets. And now Murdoch has decided to sell his entire stake in Sky!!
Our determined, people-powered campaign has been so effective that Bloomberg described Avaaz as the "fly in the ointment of Murdoch's Sky bid" and prominent media editor Ian Burrell wrote that "Mr Murdoch’s decision to relinquish Sky represents a victory for the civic activist group Avaaz".
Here’s how we did it.
The phone hacking scandal derailed Murdoch’s previous bid for Sky, and he had spent the five years since then trying to persuade politicians that he’d cleaned up his act. But we knew it was nonsense - we dug into Murdoch’s US enterprise Fox News, and found it knee-deep in racial and sexual harassment which the Murdochs were desperately trying to cover up.
So, we filed a dossier with media regulator Ofcom detailing these scandals.
Then we tracked down a whistleblower in the US who was forced off Fox News after refusing her boss’s request to come to his hotel room, and brought her and two of the toughest US attorneys representing Fox staff against the Murdochs to Britain. They testified to Ofcom on behalf of dozens of victims who’d been silenced, and we got their warnings on every major British news channel.
Next we submitted detailed statistical evidence, with Media Reform Coalition, showing how the Murdochs already had too much media power.
Then we linked up with Media Matters for America to go after Murdoch’s offensive, inaccurate, pro-Trump Fox News. In a further submission we detailed how Fox broadcasts climate change denial and other inaccuracies, and racist views about muslims, black people and other groups, and sounded the alarm that the Murdochs might "Foxify" Sky in the UK if they took it over. Ofcom rejected this argument, advising Media Secretary Karen Bradley that Fox posed no threat to British broadcasting standards.
So we raised the stakes again, responded to Bradley's request for further evidence, and warned her that we'd see her in court unless she overruled the regulator. To ensure she got the point, we sent an ad van outside her ministry and around her constituency showing Murdoch as Del Boy, from one of her favourite TV shows. Our warning? "Bradley don’t get conned!".
Avaaz members also wrote Bradley hundreds of personal messages, and monitored Fox News so they could complain to Ofcom about offensive or inaccurate programmes. Rattled by this sudden scrutiny, the Murdochs yanked Fox News off the air in the UK altogether!
The Minister postponed her decision, dug in on the evidence, then announced the full investigation the Murdochs were dreading. At the same time she published letters showing that Avaaz’s concerns about harassment and biased news were central to her judgement.
Then we worked with high-powered lawyers to file an unprecedented legal challenge against the British regulator for letting the Murdochs off the hook, a move that was covered in media from Asia to America.
Avaaz sent three detailed submissions to the competition watchdog that was now investigating the deal, then went with key allies to give three hours of evidence to their official inquiry. An amazing investigation by The New York Times landed just at the right time to show the Murdochs true attitudes. It revealed that they let leading Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly write a $32 million cheque to settle his sixth sexual harassment case with a female employee, right before giving him a pay rise and a new four year contract. In January 2017, just as they were claiming to UK authorities that they'd cleaned up their act.
To keep these scandals in the public eye as the watchdog readied its findings, Avaaz brought over three more whistleblowers to London to testify to their experiences working for the Murdoch Empire. Breaking her silence for the first time in Parliament before an audience of Avaaz members, media and prominent MPs such as Ed Miliband, former Fox reporter Jessica Golloher revealed she was blocked from covering Trump’s Russia links, even on her own dime and in her own time.
The continual delays, and the threat of more secrets spilling into the open, took its toll. Because suddenly, the Murdochs announced a retreat after decades of imperial expansion. Having said they wanted to own 100% of Sky, they did a U-turn and put their whole Sky stake up for sale to Disney. The king of hate media, who’s corrupted our public life and had successive prime ministers on speed dial, has met his match!
The Guardian's "end of an era for Murdoch" headline summed it up. It’s a proud moment and a massive victory which could mark a turning point for our democracy. But the Murdochs still own a huge chunk of UK newspapers, and they’re an ultra-wily family. So we’ll keep the pressure on to be doubly sure they’ll own less, not more, UK media in a few months time.
"Avaaz has been at the heart of the coalition campaigning against Rupert Murdoch’s bid for Sky. The work they have done to gather evidence, bring witnesses from the United States and assemble high quality arguments has been invaluable".
"It has been hugely gratifying to see an organisation like Avaaz alerting people to the risk of so much media power being concentrated in the hands of Rupert Murdoch and his family. They have helped to galvanise popular opinion across the country and defend the public interest from this assault on democracy".