Friday 20 April 2018

Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox confident of Sky bid competition decision 'in coming days'

Rupert Murdoch
Rupert Murdoch

Holly Williams

Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox has said it is confident the Culture Secretary will make her decision on whether to refer its bid for Sky to the competition watchdog in the "coming days".

Fox said Karen Bradley should dismiss "flagrant political attempts to interfere" after a Government spokesman last week reportedly said she would not make a decision until after the parliamentary summer recess.

This would mean Fox would have to wait until at least next March to find out if its £11.7 billion swoop for Sky can go through, if Ms Bradley chooses to refer the deal to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

But in a letter from its lawyers Allen & Overy, Fox hit out at "political pressure" and took a swipe at former Labour leader Ed Miliband after he recently urged Ms Bradley "not to do a grubby deal with the Murdochs".

Ms Bradley said at the end of June she was "minded" to refer the deal to the CMA over concerns about diversity in the UK's media sector.

Mr Miliband has since joined forces with other higher profile senior MPs including Sir Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leadership candidate, in a letter to the Government claiming Ofcom made "fundamental failures" in its investigation and calling for a full CMA inquiry into the deal.

But Fox said: "Bowing to the political pressure of the Miliband Letter would constitute the most blatant form of political interference, and would critically undermine the integrity of the quasi-judicial nature of the Secretary of State's role in this process."

It added: "21st Century Fox trusts that the Secretary of State will dismiss these flagrant political attempts to interfere in the regulatory process and its timing, which are in stark contrast to the respect for the independence of Ofcom that the authors of the letter had until recently promulgated.

"By doing so, 21st Century Fox is confident that the Secretary of State should be able to reach a final decision on a reference to the CMA in the coming days."

Fox said in its letter - sent on Monday - that Ms Bradley must ensure the case is dealt with "expeditiously and fairly".

It said it filed its response to Ms Bradley's "minded to" decision a week before the July 14 deadline to help speed up the process.

"The review timetable has already been extended significantly as a result of the general election," Fox added in the letter.

Speaking in the Commons last month, Ms Bradley said an Ofcom report found that the attempt by Fox to acquire the 61% of Sky it does not already own risks handing the tycoon's family "increased influence" over the UK's news agenda and the political process.

But she also said she was "minded not to refer" the bid to a phase two investigation in relation to a "genuine commitment to broadcasting standards".

Her comments came as Ofcom said the merger would not stop Sky from holding a broadcasting licence, despite concerns over "significant failings" in the corporate culture at Fox News.

Mr Murdoch's bid comes five years after his last attempt at taking the business over through News Corporation in 2011.

The tilt faced opposition from media industry rivals and politicians before it was scuppered by acute pressure on the company brought about by phone-hacking claims involving News International.

Press Association

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