The take over deal between 21st Century Fox and European pay-TV giant Sky is getting further delayed as the UK parliament breaks up for recess without revealing whether the bid can go ahead as planned.
On 29 June 2017, Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, referred the bid by the Rupert Murdoch-owned company to the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority having been minded to refer it for a fuller investigation due to concerns regarding plurality of media ownership following an investigation into the action by UK broadcast regulator Ofcom.
The regulator was asked to consider whether there would be sufficient plurality of persons with control of the media enterprises, and whether the parties would have genuine commitment to the attainment in relation to broadcasting of standards objectives. Its report concluded that the proposed transaction raises public interest concerns relating to media plurality. In addition, Ofcom noted that the deal as it stood contained a risk of increased influence by members of the Murdoch Family Trust over the UK news agenda and the political process, with its unique presence on radio, television, in print and online. Ofcom considered these concerns may justify a reference by the Secretary of State to the Competition and Markets Authority.
After her decision, Bradley allowed parties to the proposed merger the opportunity to make representations on her position on media plurality. She confirmed that she has received detailed representations from 21st Century Fox and a letter from Sky, which she says she will aim to publish, and a letter from Sky executives Lachlan and James Murdoch. She confirmed that she has also received ‘a substantial’ number of responses in relation to my referral decision.
Yet Bradley has revealed that in coming to a decision she was obliged to take account of all relevant representations and that as a result, her final decision on referral could only be made after fully considering all relevant evidence on both the plurality and commitment to broadcasting standards grounds. She said that given the consultation only closed on 14 July 2017, there had not been time to consider all the representations, and that she was not currently in a position today to make a final decision on referral.
Bradley expects to be in a position to come to a final decision on referral — including in respect of the broadcasting standard ground — in the coming weeks, and potentially during summer recess.