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Group Opposed to Fox-Sky Takeover Demands New Look by British Regulator

A group opposed to 21st Century Fox’s bid to take over Sky has threatened to have the courts intervene if British regulator Ofcom does not revisit its conclusion that the Murdochs would be a “fit and proper” owner of the pan-European pay-TV service.

Activist organization Avaaz alleges that Ofcom “made mistake after mistake in deciding to give the Murdochs a clean bill of health to take over more of our media.” Alex Wilks, campaign director at Avaaz, called on the regulator “to reopen their investigation to regain credibility.”

In June, Ofcom submitted a report to the British government saying there was no reason to reject the $15-billion takeover deal on the grounds that the Murdochs would not be a “fit and proper” owner of Sky. But the regulator did recommend a more comprehensive review of Fox’s ownership of Sky on grounds of media plurality. British Culture Secretary Karen Bradley accepted those findings and said she would be inclined to follow those recommendations.

But in a letter sent to Ofcom on Monday, Avaaz asserts that the regulator made “serious errors” as it considered broadcasting standards at both Sky and Fox. The group cited Fox’s “history of corporate governance failings,” in particular its handling of allegations of sexual and racial harassment at Fox News. It reminded Ofcom of its previous assessment, in 2012, of James Murdoch’s conduct during Britain’s phone-hacking scandal, which Ofcom said repeatedly “fell short of the exercise of responsibility to be expected of him as CEO and chairman” of Sky.

Avaaz’s letter also noted the controversy over Fox News’ since-debunked story linking the late Democratic Party operative Seth Rich to leaks of party e-mails. Fox has retracted the story. “It seems to fit the pattern of playing fast and loose with broadcasting standards,” Wilks said in an interview with Variety.

The letter requests that Ofcom withdraw its June report and “reconsider the question of Sky’s fitness post-merger.” The letter gives the regulator 14 days to respond before Avaaz says it will seek review of the matter in front of a judge.

Fox declined to comment on Avaaz’s letter.

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