Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox is facing another obstacle, and further delay, in the path of its Sky takeover, with the government seeking extra advice from the media regulator.
The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said today that Ofcom has been asked to “advise on a number of points arising from” representations made to culture secretary Karen Bradley.
The department has received new evidence and comment on Ofcom’s public interest report on the deal and has asked for “further clarification” from the media regulator.
US company Fox is already waiting to hear whether Bradley will formally refer the deal for a full Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) probe to investigate media plurality concerns. She has previously said she is minded to do so.
However, the latest announcement from the DCMS suggests the deal could be the subject of more scrutiny from the broadcasting regulator to decide whether Fox would be a “fit and proper” owner of Sky. Previously Bradley indicated that she was not minded to refer the deal on these grounds.
DCMS said today that, after assessing representations made to her, Bradley has asked “Ofcom to advise on a number of points arising from these representations” and set a deadline of 25 August.
The statement added:
All effort continues to carry out this process in a transparent and timely way. The department’s letter to Ofcom and Ofcom’s response will be published in due course.
The announcement will come as a blow to the Murdoch family. Rupert's sons – Fox’s executive chairman Lachlan and chief executive James – wrote to Bradley in July, warning her important investment decisions will need to be put on ice while she makes up her mind on the Sky takeover.
Campaign organisation Avaaz, which has been pushing for a deeper “fit and proper owner” probe, welcomed the DCMS announcement.
Senior campaigner Alaphia Zoyab said: “Ofcom took a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ approach to investigating the Murdochs and their fake news factory Fox News. Under pressure from Avaaz and others, secretary Bradley is beginning to see just how flawed that approach was. She should push for a deeper probe, and she knows that if she doesn’t, a legal challenge is possible.”
An Ofcom spokesperson said: “We have received the department’s request for further clarifications, and will respond within the requested time.”