Reg­u­la­tor hits out at Sky probe

The Weekend Australian - - BUSINESS REVIEW - ROBIN PAG­NA­MENTA THE TIMES

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.”

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