Theresa May has been asked to reveal whether she has discussed with Rupert Murdoch his new bid to takeover BSKYB.
On Friday the billionaire’s 21st Century Fox company made a fresh £11.2bn offer to take control of the 61% of Sky it does not already own.
His 2011 bid was derailed after it emerged journalists from the News of the World had engaged in phone hacking.
Speaking in the Commons today, Labour’s shadow culture minister Kevin Brennan said voters needed to know “whose side the government is on” and said the bid should be referred to broadcast regulator Ofcom.
“The prime minister met Rupert Murdoch in New York in September. Was the bid discussed and did she give him any assurances about the bid or discuss his future support for her or her government?,” he asked.
Brennan said May should be “prepared to stand up to powerful interests” and make sure the bid is independently scrutinised.
Critics of the bid worry Murdoch, who owns newspapers including The Sun and The Times, would gain too much control over the UK media.
Conservative culture minister Matt Hancock said there had yet to be a formal notification of the bid. “Any transaction will be looked at on its merits, on a case by case basis,” he told the Commons.
At the time of the 2011 bid, MPs passed a motion demanding it be withdrawn.
Former Labour leader Ed Miliband said today given there was still phone hacking cases unresolved in the courts the new bid should be vetoed by culture secretary Karen Bradley.
“What has really changed since the House passed a motion five years ago?” Miliband said. “In my view very little - and that is why I believe this bid should be rejected.”
Former Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable, who was in office at the time of the previous bid, has said the new takeover “poses a genuine threat to media plurality in the UK”.
“The level of plurality in UK media has remained comparable since I referred a similar takeover bid to the competitions authorities in 2010. Nothing seems to have materially changed and if this takeover was to go ahead then there would be similar concerns raised about media plurality in the UK,” he said.
“The way Theresa May’s government deals with this is a test of their independence from the influence of large proprietors. The consultation that has been launched on the implementation of Leveson would suggest there is a tendency for some to bow to the power of media giants – this must not be the case.”
Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader and shadow culture secretary, has said regulator Ofcom should investigate whether Murdoch would pass the “fit and proper” person test.
“The bid must also be judged on its likely impact on the UK news market and the provision of robust and independent journalism. Finally, given the likely concentration of further media power in the hands of a single company, it is right that the fit and proper test should be applied by Ofcom if the deal is approved by Sky shareholders.
“This bid has been expected since 2011, when Rupert Murdoch withdrew his original bid for BSkyB at the height of the phone-hacking scandal. If the independent committee set up by the board of Sky agrees to accept the offer from 21st Century Fox it will be incumbent on the regulatory authorities, including Ofcom, to ensure that media plurality is upheld and that competition concerns are addressed.”