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Friday 21 September 2018

Sky News to be sold to Disney or ringfenced under Fox proposals

Fox, which is attempting to buy the 61% of Sky it does not already own, faces a number of regulatory hurdles.

Phone hacking claims
Phone hacking claims

By Ravender Sembhy, Press Association City Editor

Sky News would be sold off to Walt Disney or ringfenced under improved concessions put forward by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox as part of its efforts to seize full control of broadcaster Sky.

Fox, which is attempting to buy the 61% of Sky it does not already own, faces a number of regulatory hurdles after the UK’s competition watchdog found the £11.7 billion deal was “not in the public interest”.

It has now proposed either a legal separation and comprehensive ringfencing of Sky News or a sale of the loss-making channel to Walt Disney, which is itself attempting to acquire Fox’s entertainment assets.

The sale of Sky News to Disney would take place “whether or not Disney’s proposed acquisition of 21st Century Fox proceeds”, Fox said on Tuesday.

It comes as the Competition and Markets Authority weighs up whether to recommend Fox’s deal for Sky to Culture Secretary Matt Hancock, who must decide to either approve or block it.

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Cabinet meeting

Sky News has become a flashpoint in Fox’s takeover bid because of competition fears centring on Mr Murdoch’s ownership of the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times newspapers.

Fox said in a regulatory filing: “We have worked diligently with the CMA throughout its extensive review. In fact, we believe that the enhanced firewall remedies we proposed to safeguard the editorial independence of Sky News addressed comprehensively and constructively the CMA’s provisional concerns.

“These enhanced remedies went above and beyond what Ofcom, the expert, independent regulator on UK broadcasting, had stated would mitigate concerns around media plurality.”

The plan to hive off Sky News would see it legally separated from the rest of Sky, with a fully independent board and guaranteed funding from Fox for 15 years.

Fox added that it would not seek to influence the editorial choices made by Sky News bosses.

“We offered this even though the record before the CMA shows that, over the course of nearly 30 years as Sky’s founding shareholder, neither 21CF, nor the Murdoch Family Trust, have ever sought to influence the editorial direction of Sky News,” Fox insisted.

Complicating matters, however, is US broadcaster Comcast, which is lining up a showdown with Fox by mounting its own £22.1 billion takeover approach for Sky.

The group, which has a broadband arm serving 29 million US customers, owns NBC and Universal Pictures and wants to seize more than 50% of Sky.

Fox also used its statement to take aim at a number of MPs who have come out strongly against Mr Murdoch taking control of Sky.

They include Ed Miliband and Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, who have raised concerns about media plurality and the tycoon’s dominance of the British media landscape.

Fox said: “We are aware that a group of politicians that is opposed to the transaction is seeking to influence the CMA and is making a number of unsupported and fanciful assertions.

“If the CMA were to accept at face value these assertions and be dissatisfied with enhanced remedies that are a direct and reasonable response to concerns it had raised with us, we believe that this would compromise the integrity of a system which is supposed to be objective, evidenced-based and grounded on the application of established legal principles.”

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