Culture secretary Karen Bradley has referred the 21st Century Fox bid to buy Sky to the Competition and Markets Authority.
The culture secretary has today overruled Ofcom to refer Rupert Murdoch’s £11.7 billion bid to buy Sky UK to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
Campaign group Avaaz had threatened to take legal action if Karen Bradley did not refer the takeover bid to the CMA, after she indicated she would ask for an investigation but then appeared to change her mind and stall the process.
The Murdochs have already gained Ofcom’s approval for the merger, which Avaaz has said will have “lasting affects on our democracy” if it goes ahead.
But Bradley has now requested a more thorough investigation into media plurality.
She told the Guardian:
“I can confirm my final decision is to refer the merger to the CMA for a phase 2 investigation on media plurality and genuine commitment to broadcasting standards grounds.
“I will issue and publish my formal referral decision in the coming days. I will also publish the substantive representations I have received during this process shortly.”
The CMA is now expected to launch a thorough six month investigation into the Murdochs, before advising Bradley on whether or not to let the merger proceed. The culture secretary will then make the final decision.
Liberal Democrat Leader Vince Cable said today that he was glad Bradley had ‘shown courage’ in the face of pressure from the Murdochs.
“This referral is completely justified on grounds both of plurality and broadcasting standards,” he said, adding:
“It is now over to the Competition and Markets Authority to properly scrutinise this bid and stand up for a plural and independent media.
“In the current climate, media outlets in this country are particularly vulnerable to takeover because of the weakness of the pound. Media power should not be an auction to the highest bidder.”
In a statement to the stock market, 21st Century Fox said it had written to Bradley, expressing disappointment that she had “changed her mind and decided not to follow the advice of the independent and expert regulator Ofcom regarding broadcasting standards”.
But it said it looked forward to “engaging constructively with the CMA, as an independent authority”.
In a television interview James Murdoch appeared to take the news less well, issuing a stark warning to the British government that they should not shun the bid in the run-up to Brexit. He said:
“So if the UK truly is open for business post-Brexit we look forward to moving through the regulatory review process and this transformational transaction for the UK creative sector becoming an affirmation of that claim.”
This is a step in the right direction, but we must remain vigilant. Avaaz polls show Rupert Murdoch is one of the least trusted people in the UK, and no doubt he will keep trying to expand their grip on the British media.
Charlotte England is a freelance journalist and writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.
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