UK culture secretary Karen Bradley has announced in a speech to parliament that she is ‘minded’ to refer Fox’s proposed GBP11.7 billion (USD15.2 billion) takeover of multi-service operator Sky to a ‘Phase 2’ investigation on the grounds of media plurality. The minister noted that her decision had been informed by a report by Ofcom on the matter, which she said was unambiguous with regards to the question of whether the merger gives rise to public interest concerns in relation to media plurality. Indeed, she noted that the telecom watchdog’s report had argued that the transaction could see an ‘increased influence by members of the Murdoch Family Trust over the UK news agenda and the political process’.
Ahead of confirming the start of a Phase 2 investigation, which would see the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) examine the deal over a six-month period, Bradley noted that, as required by legislation, she is giving the parties involved an opportunity to make representations in relation to the matter of media plurality. In addition, wider representations regarding the question of commitment to broadcasting standards will also be accepted, ‘in the interests of transparency and ensuring all the evidence has been considered’. Submissions are required by 14 July 2017, following which the minister will make a final decision about whether to refer the deal to the CMA.
Meanwhile, an expanded investigation into the deal could yet be avoided should the parties involved in the deal propose remedies which are deemed to address the public interest concerns that have provisionally been identified. While undertakings had, in fact, been put forward to, and considered by, Ofcom as part of its review, the culture minister has taken an initial view that these are not acceptable.