U.K. Regulator Rules Against Fox/Sky Merger

Rupert Murdoch’s quest to acquire outright control of British satellite operator Sky Jan. 23 suffered a setback after a government regulator found the $15 billion acquisition by 21st Century Fox would not be in the public interest. Fox currently owns 39% of Sky.

Following referral from the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) had been tasked with investigating the deal’s media plurality and commitment to broadcasting standards.

Specifically, the CMA found media plurality concerns for viewers on a Fox-owned Sky, including access to a wide range of political viewpoints.

The group found that due to its control of News Corp, the Murdoch family has significant influence over public opinion. Full ownership of Sky by Fox would strengthen this even further.

The watchdog said media plurality goes to the heart of the U.K.’s democratic process and as such is given legal protection.

CMA said the ruling did not involve a lack of a “genuine commitment” by Fox/Sky meeting broadcasting standards in the U.K.

“Our in-depth investigation also considered whether the deal would be against the public interest regarding broadcasting standards,” Anne Lambert, chair of CMA, said in a statement. “Due to their existing track record in the U.K., and the range of policies and procedures the companies involved have in place to ensure broadcasting standards are met, we did not find public interest concerns in this regard.”

Notably, should U.S. regulators okay Walt Disney’s $50 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox, Disney would assume control of Fox’s stake in Sky.

The CMA will present a final report to Matthew Hancock, secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, by May 1. Hancock will make the final decision on the proposed deal.

 

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