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Murdoch's Arab franchise puts $15bn Sky bid at risk
The hacking of Qatar's state broadcaster - and the subsequent publishing of bogus reports attributed to the Gulf country's emir - must have had producers whooping for joy.
That journalists in newsrooms everywhere have been trained to watch out for "fake news" didn't matter. That the reports of Sheikh Tamim appearing to express support for Iran and Hizballah were obviously false didn't matter. That Doha moved swiftly to put out a blanket refutation of the statements didn't matter.
For hours and hours on Wednesday, Sky News Arabia persisted, knowingly reporting that which they knew to be untrue.
They failed to mention Doha's denials, instead simply presenting the bogus reports as absolute fact.
The hack happened in the middle of the night, yet interview producers were miraculously able to summon a series of studio analysts from thin air, all queueing up to condemn and vilify Qatar as an ally of extremists. Meanwhile, social media users lined up to parrot the anti-Qatar abuse online.
Yet multiple emails to Sky's PR team requesting an explanation, or some comment, went unanswered throughout Wednesday and Thursday.
|Ofcom is investigating whether the deal will give the mogul too much power over the British media scene and whether his family are "fit and proper" owners|
Sky News Arabia set the tone, and soon Qatar-based news websites - including the massively popular Al-Jazeera Arabic - had been blocked in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Sky News Arabia is a 50-50 partnership between the London-based Sky plc and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the deputy prime minister of the UAE and the half-brother of the UAE's president.
And Sky is having its own issues in Britain at the moment, with Rupert Murdoch's bid to take full ownership (his 21st Century Fox currently owns a 39 percent stake) referred to Britain's powerful media watchdog, Ofcom - despite Murdoch's close links with Prime Minister Theresa May and former PM David Cameron.
|Read more: The 'fake news' hack - a pre-emptive strike on Qatar's independent foreign policy?|
Ofcom is investigating whether the deal will give the mogul too much power over the British media scene and whether his family are "fit and proper" owners after the infamous and devastating phone hacking scandal that led several of his employees to jail and ended with the demise of his Sunday News of the World tabloid.
The Ofcom regulator will be scrutinising whether Murdoch's team has fully committed to the editorial standards required of it, particuarly an attention to accuracy, fairness and impartial coverage.
|A record of Sky being unable to control its Abu Dhabi franchise... can only stand to hurt Murdoch's takeover bid|
Sky News Arabia, when it was first set up by Murdoch's organisation five years ago, touted its editorial advisory committee as the means by which it would distinguish itself from its more sectarian, nationalist, partisan rivals in the region.
Experienced journalists with a track record of excellence were placed on this committee. Roger Alton, then executive editor of The Times (proprietor R. Murdoch), and Chris Birkett, then executive editor of London-based Sky News, were to sit on this six-member board, overseeing the work of the new UAE broadcaster.
But a record of Sky being unable to control its Abu Dhabi franchise, which has been deliberately putting out "fake news", can only stand to hurt Murdoch's £11.7 billion ($15bn) takeover bid.
With Murdoch's oligarchic reach and a seemingly unquenchable lust for consolidating power over the political, economic and media narrative in the United Kingdom, will he seek to curb the outlandish and outrageous behaviour of his Abu Dhabi franchise to get the deal done, even if that means angering his powerful business partner Sheikh Mansour?
Which does Murdoch desire more - power in the UK, with its international political influence, or power in the Gulf, with its economic might?
He may soon be forced to choose.
James Brownsell is the Managing Editor of The New Arab. Follow him on Twitter: @the_newarab