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Murdoch's Sky takeover faces investigation from UK's competition regulator

13 September 2017, 12:46 | Melanie Burgess

Fox's Sky Deal: UK Plans In-Depth Review on Competition and Broadcasting Standards Grounds

21st Century Fox takeover of Sky referred to competition watchdog

Following the culture secretary's concerns of Murdoch's takeover of Sky (LON:SKY), the Competition and Markets Authority will carry out further investigations into the £11.7 billion deal.

In a statement to members of British Parliament on Tuesday, Culture Minister Karen Bradley said that the country's communications regulator, Ofcom, found there are "non-fanciful concerns" about the company's commitment to British broadcasting standards.

The long drawn out bid process has seen a number of investigations by United Kingdom broadcast regulator Ofcom as to the worthiness of the second attempt by Rupert Murdoch to take total control of a company in which he has held a 39.1% stake, a hugely controversial move given how the United Kingdom media sector has not yet fully revered from the phone hacking scandal which engulfed the previous attempt to buy the hugely successful pay-TV operator.

While the blockbuster deal has already raised concerns about the influence of the Australian-born United States tycoon over Britain's media landscape, industry observers are also anxious that the controversial reporting style of Murdoch's Fox News channel could be adopted by Britain's Sky News.

The reference to the CMA on media plurality was widely expected after Bradley previously stated she was minded to do so.

Bradley told the parliament in London on Tuesday about her thoughts on the in-depth review on editorial standards. After which time she will make her final decision on whether or not to refer the merger to the competition watchdog.

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Turning to the question of corporate governance failures, Ofcom states in its latest correspondence that these raise non-fanciful concerns in respect of the broadcasting standards ground.

"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 fact that Fox belatedly established such procedures does not ease my concerns, nor does Fox's compliance history".

Fox Chief Executive Officer James Murdoch and fellow managers now face the prospect of months of interrogation over recent events at scandal-hit Fox News and past corporate governance failings in the Murdoch media empire.

The Murdoch family and 21st Century Fox have faced considerable opposition to the Sky deal in the UK. "Extra reasons have been added as to why it is being referred to the CMA, such as broadcasting standards and corporate governance, but from a practical standpoint it doesn't hugely change things", said Liberum Capital's Ian Whittaker.

The CMA is set to appoint a panel of experienced competition lawyers and industry grandees who would give their recommendation to Ms Bradley. The group has further threatened Ms Bradley with a legal challenge if she were to choose not to call for a deeper probe of Fox's commitment to broadcasting standards.

Wigdor, which is pursuing several cases against Fox News, said: "We are pleased that after our submissions Secretary Bradley has concluded that a further investigation is necessary in order to determine whether Fox has met broadcasting standards and are hopeful that Fox will now waive any gag orders so that other individuals can provide relevant information without fear of reprisal".

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