Fox takeover of Sky ‘not in the public interest’ investigation finds

Having recently sold-off some of FOX’s assets in, seemingly, the hope of grabbing full control of Sky Television, the CMA have said a Fox takeover of Sky would not be beneficial to the UK viewing public.

“Media plurality goes to the heart of our democratic process. It is very important that no group or individual should have too much control of our news media or too much power to affect the political agenda. We have provisionally found that if the Fox/Sky merger went ahead as proposed, it would be against the public interest. It would result in the Murdoch family having too much control over news providers in the UK, and too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda.” – Anne Lambert, Chair of the independent investigation Group, CMA

Following a referral from the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has been investigating the deal on two grounds. They were asked to look into whether a deal would effect media plurality and also would a Fox-Sky union effect a commitment to broadcasting standards.

The CMA has provisionally found, they announced today (January 23rd), that Rupert Murdoch and his 20th Century Fox group taking full control of Sky is not something that would be in the public interest. Murdoch also operates News UK, which publishes a number of titles including The Sun, which is one of the leading papers at trying to sway political votes and views. The CMA decided a wholly owned Sky by Fox would bring up ‘media plurality concerns’. However they noted it was a conclusion that didn’t involve ‘a lack of a genuine commitment to meeting broadcasting standards in the UK’.

The media plurality concerns identified were however enough on their own merits to have the organisation decide that the proposed transaction would not be in the public interest.

Media plurality goes to the heart of the UK’s democratic process and as such is given protection in law – CMA

In a statement the CMA noted that they have ‘provisionally found that if the deal went ahead, as currently proposed, it is likely to operate against the public interest. It would lead to the Murdoch Family Trust (MFT), which controls Fox and News Corporation (News Corp/News UK), increasing its control over Sky, so that it would have too much control over news providers in the UK across all media platforms such as television, radio, online outlets and print publications such as newspapers.’

The body go on to note that these combined outlets would lead to a possiblity of there being ‘too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda.’ The Competition and Markets Authority continue that ‘the MFT’s news outlets are watched, read or heard by nearly a third of the UK’s population, and have a combined share of the public’s news consumption that is significantly greater than all other news providers, except the BBC and ITN.’

Due to its control of News Corp, the Murdoch family already has significant influence over public opinion and full ownership of Sky by Fox would strengthen this even further. – CMA

The investigation also examined whether Fox, Sky and the Murdochs have a genuine commitment to broadcasting standards in the UK. Here they noted that ‘Fox taking full control of Sky is not likely to operate against the public interest.’ They continued that they felt ‘Fox has a genuine commitment to broadcasting standards in the UK.’ However the CMA did observe that they found ‘while there were issues with the compliance arrangements at Fox News when it was broadcasting its unedited simulcast international feed into the UK, this did not outweigh the detailed and effective policies and procedures that Fox has in place in relation to its UK focused channels.’

Another negative noted was the The Sun on Sunday in its previous life as News of the World. The body state they ‘took account of the fact that before 2012 there were serious shortcomings at the Murdoch controlled newspaper the News of the World, which had failed to comply with both press standards and the law.’ They have accepted however that since then News UK/News Corp has changed its prodceedures to address these concerns. They also observed that Sky has a good record in this regard, consistently complying with broadcasting regulation. It also has comprehensive and effective policies and procedures in place to ensure broadcasting standards are met.

The investigation also considered the recent allegations of sexual harassment against Fox News employees in the United States. – CMA

The aligations are noted as being serious, but in the scheme of their investigation the organisation has concluded that the issues stateside are ‘not directly related to the attainment of broadcasting standards and do not call into question Fox’s or the MFT’s commitment to broadcasting standards in the UK.’

Currently 21st Century Fox owns 39 per cent of the shares in Sky Television. The service began in 1989 with a handful of channels including Sky Movies, Sky News and Sky One, it now offers viewers a choice of hundreds of channels.

“Our in-depth investigation also considered whether the deal would be against the public interest regarding broadcasting standards. Due to their existing track record in the UK, and the range of policies and procedures the companies involved have in place to ensure broadcasting standards are met, we did not find public interest concerns in this regard.” – Anne Lambert, Chair of the independent investigation Group, CMA

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