Britain holds up Murdoch’s bid for Sky

Meg James
Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles — Britain’s secretary of state on Wednesday ruled that the bid by Rupert Murdoch’s media company to control the European satellite TV service Sky must undergo more rigorous regulatory scrutiny.

Karen Bradley, Britain’s secretary of state for culture and media, formally referred 21st Century Fox’s bid to consolidate the Sky service to Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority.

While the move had been expected, it was a blow to the Murdochs. Bradly asked the authority to determine whether the mogul, his family and other Fox executives were “genuinely committed” to maintaining high broadcast standards.

At issue is whether the deal gives the Murdochs, who control 21st Century Fox, too much influence over British media. The family already owns several newspapers in the country, including the Times of London and the tabloid Sun. Sky News is a major provider of television and radio news in Britain.

Documents released Wednesday show that problems within the U.S.-based Fox News have become a sticking point in the British government’s review, undermining Fox’s effort to quickly wrap up its consolidation of Sky, which provides TV service in Britain, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy. Fox currently owns 39 percent of Sky and has offered $15 billion to buy the remaining 61 percent.

Unlike in the U.S., British authorities tightly monitor the content and accuracy of news that is broadcast on radio and TV.

In documents, British officials expressed concern that Fox did not take seriously issues of sexual harassment within Fox News until after a high-profile anchor, Gretchen Carlson, sued the former chairman of Fox News, Roger Ailes, in 2016. Fox ultimately paid Carlson a $20 million settlement. In addition, Fox News’ editorial standards were called into question following its coverage of the death in Washington of Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee staff member, during last year’s presidential election.

Critics in Britain have been working to derail Fox’s acquisition of Sky. They worry that the Murdochs would turn the independent Sky News channel into a clone of conservative-leaning Fox News. These critics have lodged dozens of complaints about Fox News with British authorities.

Sky removed the Fox News channel from its lineup in late August as concerns about its content mounted in Britain.

“It appears that 21st Century Fox failed to put in place adequate compliance procedures for Fox News despite this being a condition of its UK broadcast license,” British officials wrote in a letter this month to Fox.