In Setback for Murdoch, UK Regulators to Review Sky Takeover

13 September, 2017, 00:44 | Author: Gladys Mathis
  • 21st Century Fox takeover of Sky referred to competition watchdog

Bradley's decision on whether to refer the deal to the Competition and Markets Authority had been delayed several times. Her decision to refer to the CMA on broadcasting standards goes against advice from Ofcom.

Bradley wrote on 7 August: "A number of representations contend that Ofcom has not considered all the evidence".

"We urge the secretary of state to take a final decision quickly", Fox said, adding that the deal, announced in December 2016, was now likely to be completed by June 30, 2018, "subject to any further delays in the decision-making process".

"The evidence before us of senior management efforts to rectify the situation, which included dismissal of those directly responsible, our judgment was that. there were not concerns which may justify a reference on grounds of the broadcast standards", Ofcom said.

Following further clarification received from Ofcom, the Secretary decided that there are sufficient concerns about a lack of procedures for broadcast compliance for Fox News to warrant further investigation.

Ofcom admitted that while it had found "non-fanciful concerns", it stood by its original finding that none of them "justify a reference in relation to the broadcast standards public interest consideration".

The British government's intention to seek a full review of 21st Century Fox's bid for Sky is unlikely to derail the takeover, analysts say, even though opponents of the deal hailed the decision as a "golden opportunity" to sink the $15-billion agreement.

The existence of non-fanciful concerns means that - as a matter of law - the threshold for a reference on the broadcasting standards ground is met, Bradley said today.

"My proper concern is whether Fox will have a genuine commitment to attaining broadcasting standards objectives".

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Ofcom said there was no reason to think the deal was against the public interest on broadcasting standards grounds but indicated it did have concerns on plurality of media ownership.

One of them, former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, said Monday that Fox News should serve as a cautionary tale.

Ofcom has now confirmed it considers this to raise non-fanciful concerns but which are not sufficiently serious to warrant referral.

It was "important", Bradley explained, that "entities which adopt controversial or partisan approaches to news and current affairs in other jurisdictions should, at the same time, have a genuine commitment to broadcasting standards here" in the UK. "These are matters the CMA may wish to consider". However, it again concludes that these concerns do not warrant a reference. She was not confident that weaknesses in Fox's corporate governance arrangements were incapable of affecting compliance in the broadcasting standards context.

Bradley also asked Ofcom to respond to representations that argued that Fox's supposedly tougher new corporate governance measures had failed. After that, she will make a final decision "as promptly as I can".

The CMA is set to appoint a panel of experienced competition lawyers and industry grandees who would give their recommendation to Ms Bradley.

21st Century Fox announced in August that its controversial news channel would no longer be broadcast in the United Kingdom after failing to attract an audience.

Once a formal referral takes place, the regulator will have six months to conduct an investigation.

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