On August 30 Fox News officially faded to black on United Kingdom airwaves, pulled by parent company 21st Century Fox after 15 years on British television. Publicly, the U.S. media group has cited poor ratings as the reason behind the decision, arguing that U.K. audiences are no longer in their “commercial interest.”
A spokesperson for the company announced that “Fox News is focused on the US market and designed for a US audience and, accordingly, it averages only a few thousand viewers across the day in the UK. We have concluded that it is not in our commercial interest to continue providing Fox News in the UK.”
What the network hasn’t, and likely won’t, mention is whether the decision is tied to Fox’s ongoing bid to take over British telecommunications giant Sky. Fox News parent corporation 21st Century Fox had proposed the $15 billion deal last December, an ambitious move that would give Fox an additional 61 percent stake in Sky.
If allowed, Fox would gain full control over Sky, as well as its 22 million European customer base, a move critics fear would give the right-wing group too much control over U.K. media.
The deal has proven difficult for Fox, thanks in part to frequent run-ins with British media regulator Ofcom, which has ruled against Fox in 22 broadcasting breaches over the past decade. Still, in June Ofcom ruled the media giant was “fit and proper” to retain its broadcasting licenses but expressed concern about Fox’s culture.
According to their report, “Ofcom has considered allegations of sexual and racial harassment at Fox News that are extremely serious and disturbing. It seems clear that there are significant failings of the corporate culture at Fox News.”
Given the green light to proceed, it’s now up to U.K. Culture Secretary Karen Bradley to determine whether Fox’s broadcasting standards need further investigation. Full control would also give Fox access to Sky’s treasure trove of media markets that span radio, newspapers and television.
Voicing her own concerns, Bradley claimed “This potentially raises public interest concerns because, in Ofcom’s view, the transaction may increase members of the Murdoch Family Trust’s ability to influence the overall news agenda and their ability to influence the political process and it may also result in the perception of increased influence.”
An investigation is exactly what Avaaz, a political advocacy group, wants. “Ofcom’s made mistake after mistake in deciding to give the Murdoch’s a clean bill of health to take over our media. They need to reopen their investigation to regain credibility,” said the group’s campaign director, Alex Wilks.
“Closing down Fox News in Britain is a desperate gamble by the Murdochs to persuade the government they are fit to take over Sky,” said Wilks. Adding, “Bradley must not be duped by this rather sad attempt to pull the wool over her eyes.”
The brainchild of Murdoch, Fox News was launched in 1996, quickly becoming a conservative alternative to mainstream media. Under former Republican media consultant Roger Ailes, the fledgling network would eventually become the most watched news network in America.
Claims of “fake news” have become the new political norm in America, spurred in part by the Trump administration’s open disdain for the media. While Fox has touted itself as “Fair and Balanced” news, it’s been anything but, embracing a toxic culture that has relied heavily on misinformation and biased reporting.
In the U.K. they’ve faced criticism for political bias, including a 2015 controversy after Fox commentator Steven Emerson, who’d faced criticism for inaccuracies before, referred to Birmingham, England, as a city “where non-Muslims just simply don’t go.”
Speaking with the Guardian, former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband explained, “Stopping broadcasting in the UK changes nothing. Fox News in the U.S. is the Murdochs’ channel, they are responsible for its broadcasting standards and the appalling racial and sexual harassment that happened on their watch.”
A lot has happened on their watch, actually, thanks in part to their love of conspiracy theories, including the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, which Fox host Sean Hannity promoted long after it’d been debunked.
But as we saw during Pizzagate, viral hoaxes can have real consequences, especially when broadcast to millions. Falsely accused of running a child sex ring, death threats flooded into Comet Ping Pong pizzeria. Last December, North Carolina resident Edgar Maddison Welch, opened fire inside the D.C. pizza parlor while “self-investigating” the hoax. Instead, he’ll spend the next four years in prison.
For the Rich family, it’s meant reliving the death of a child over and over again, as talking heads like Hannity and former Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler, kept the narrative going before Fox finally retracted the story.
Wheeler has now sued the network, alleging that the company pushed the false story about Rich in an effort to deflect from the ongoing Russia investigation. Trump was a Fox favorite early on, using the platform to push his racist birther theory about then-President Obama.
Speaking with Business Insider Brad Bauman, a representative for the Rich family, expressed their frustration. “It’s sad but unsurprising that a group of media outlets who have repeatedly lied to the American people would try and manipulate the legacy of a murder victim in order to forward their own political agenda. I think there is a special place in hell for people like that,” said Bauman.
As an organization, Fox has failed in areas of racial and sexual misconduct. For former host Bill O’Reilly, it meant skating on a number of sexual harassment allegations, thanks to Fox’s willingness to settle over five cases before the popular commentator finally was ousted in April.
Then there’s the late Ailes, who came under fire after being accused of misconduct by former “Fox and Friends” co-host Gretchen Carlson of creating a hostile work environment that included comments like “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better.”
While both were ultimately removed, the culture doesn’t seem to have changed, particularly in the way that minorities and other groups are both featured and reported on. Fox has often allowed itself to be used a mouthpiece for bigotry, all under the guise of being a legitimate news outlet.
Of course, none of this is new to American viewers, who have seemingly grown accustomed to Fox news racial lens, from talking heads like former contributor Megyn Kelly, who once uttered “For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is White. … Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. Jesus was a White man too.”
Kelly racked us lists of tone-deaf moments during her tenure at Fox, including a 2014 interview with Tracy Martin, the father of Trayvon Martin, over George Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict. The two verbally sparred, with Kelly insisting, “They prosecuted him. Those prosecutors did their level best but they didn’t prove their case. I mean the jury just saw it differently.”
Then there’s political contributor Liz Trotta, who joked in 2008 that “What some are reading this as a suggestion that somebody knock off Osama, uh Obama. Well both, if we could.”
Although found in violation of numerous broadcasting breaches in the UK, Ofcom’s media authority doesn’t stretch overseas, and Fox has seen little damage to its brand here in America. For decades, the United States was subject to the Fairness Doctrine, a 1949 policy that required broadcast license holders to present both sides of controversial issues. It also required that those personally attacked be alerted and given the chance to respond. Outlined by the Federal Communications Commission, the doctrine was designed to provide “honest, equitable, and balanced” information.
That changed under the Reagan administration, which pushed to have the doctrine dismantled under the guise that it was harmful to free speech. In 1987, the policy was eliminated altogether, a move that some argue paved the way for outlets like Fox News to rise less than a decade later.
Others have argued about the “Fox Effect,” the product of a 2006 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research that explored whether Fox’s media bias could potentially influence our voting process, a theory Pew bolstered after revealing that 40 percent of Trump voters got their news solely from Fox News. Unlike in Britain, in an age where “fake news” is harder to decipher, Fox’s brand of propaganda is safer than ever under the Trump administration.