Culture Secretary Karen Bradley has said she expects to make a decision on the 21 Century Fox bid to takeover Sky “within the coming weeks” even though Parliament rises for summer recess tomorrow.
Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox has bid £12bn to buy the 61 per cent of Sky it doesn’t already own, which would result in Murdoch companies having the third largest total reach of any UK news provider – according to Ofcom (after the BBC and ITN).
In a statement in the House of Commons today, Bradley said she was still minded to refer the deal to the Competition and Markets Authority for a fuller investigation on the grounds of media plurality.
As per her statement last month, Bradley said she was still not minded to refer the deal to the competition watchdog on “commitment to broadcasting standards” grounds, in line with regulator Ofcom’s report.
The MP for Staffordshire Moorlands said that neither party in the merger had offered further undertakings in lieu of a referral beyond those made previously, which she said she was still not inclined to accept.
Remedies offered by Fox include establishing a separate editorial board to oversee the appointment of the head of Sky News and any changes to its editorial guidelines, as well as a commitment to maintain Sky branded News for five years with spending at least at similar levels to now.
Bradley told Parliament today that she was still reviewing evidence on the takeover bid, with representations numbering in the tens of thousands – “all of which need to be looked at”.
She said: “My final decision on referral can only be made after I have fully considered all relevant evidence on both the plurality and commitment to broadcasting standards grounds.
“Given the consultation [on the takeover] only closed on Friday, there has not been time to consider all the representations and I am not in a position today to make my final decision on referral.
“What I can do, however, is confirm to the House that having carefully reviewed the parties’ representations and in the absence of further proposed undertakings I am currently still minded to refer on the media plurality ground and still minded not to accept the undertakings in lieu of a referral.
She added: “I will take the time I need to look at the many [representations] I have received, balancing the need for careful consideration of relevant evidence with the merger parties’ legitimate need for a prompt decision.”
She said there had been “nothing” in the evidence that led to her changing her mind “at this stage” and that her final decision would be made “in the coming weeks”.
Bradley said she would write to the parties and the House informing them of her final decision if it was made during summer recess.
But Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson urged Bradley not to make up her mind on the deal until Parliament returned in September so that it had the “opportunity to scrutinise any decision she makes”.
“This is one piece of government indecision that we welcome,” the MP for West Bromwich East said. “It’s not [Bradley’s] job to operate to 21st Century Fox’s corporate timetable. They have to abide by the parliamentary timetable.”
Bradley said she was “required to act without undue delay in the interests of all parties” as part of the quasi-judicial procedure.
Watson also called for a fuller investigation into broadcasting standards at Fox and repeated his demand for part two of the Leveson Inquiry, into the relationships between the press and police, to go ahead.
He said: “The truth is that the Murdochs have a history of regulatory non-compliance and of corporate governance failure and that calls their commitment to broadcasting standards into serious question.”