Regulator hits out at Sky probe
The head of Britain’s media watchdog has hit out at the British government’s decision to ignore its advice on 21st Century Fox’s £11.7 billion ($19.8bn) bid for cable television operator Sky after ministers rejected its recommendations.
Ofcom had proposed that the deal be referred to the Competition and Markets Authority for further scrutiny on the grounds of media plurality but not broadcasting standards. Karen Bradley, the Culture Secretary, has overruled Ofcom’s recommendation and referred the deal to the CMA for an investigation on both counts.
Ofcom chief executive Sharon White defended the agency’s judgment.
Ms Bradley’s decision has fuelled accusations of political interference in the takeover, which has been approved by regulators in Austria, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the European Union.
“We took the utmost care,” Ms White said. “It’s been a very, very, very detailed and rigorous process. Both on broadcasting standards but on media plurality also. Our work stands now for scrutiny.
“We said on broadcasting standards there were non-fanciful concerns, but from our review our clear advice was that these nonfanciful concerns did not justify a reference.”
21st Century Fox owns just over 39 per cent of Sky and is hoping to gain full control of the company.
Critics of the Murdoch family, including Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader, are keen to stop the takeover, which they claim will hand the group too much power over Britain’s media industry.
Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp, owner of The Australian, is co-chairman of 21st Century Fox with his son Lachlan Murdoch. James Murdoch is chief executive of 21st Century Fox and chairman of Sky.
Ms Bradley told MPs: “The CMA has 24 weeks in which to investigate the merger and provide advice.”