21st Century Fox is waiting to find out whether the British government will refer its attempted takeover of Sky to competition authorities after the period in which interested parties could have their say on the deal closed Friday. The takeover bid looks likely to be referred for further review, with Fox reportedly not offering further concessions in the latest consultation.
Some media reports had said that a decision from the government’s culture secretary, Karen Bradley, would not happen before the British Parliament broke for its summer recess next Thursday, but Bradley’s department said this is not necessarily the case. The recess runs from July 20 to Sept. 5.
Bradley must decide whether to refer the takeover to the Competition Markets Authority in whole or in part. She said earlier this month that she was inclined to refer the element of the deal that concerned plurality, and specifically Sky News, to the CMA, and to wave through the parts referring to whether the Murdoch family are “fit and proper” owners of a combined Fox-Sky.
The government did not give any indication of the number of responses it received in the latest consultation or when a decision was due, saying only that Bradley “will now consider the representations that have been made, and will make an announcement in due course.”
Sky’s share price rose sharply directly after Bradley’s earlier decision, and Fox’s edged up. The latest consultation period closed at noon Friday, and Sky’s share price was down slightly immediately afterwards before recovering. The Fox share price was marginally up in early trading.
Fox has already offered a range of concessions over Sky News, including forming an independent editorial board, a solution that industry watchers said was hard to enforce in practical terms. Bradley said she thought the concessions were insufficient.
Fox may have now opted to go to the competition authorities to try to gain full approval from an independent body, which it hopes will defuse political criticism of the deal. “Fox has decided trying to offer more concessions doesn’t make much sense,” Liberum analyst Ian Whittaker told Bloomberg’s news channel. “It would rather go to a full review. This would be taken by an impartial body, and then they expect to get approval.”
Opposition lawmakers have continued to criticize the deal on the grounds of both plurality and, in the wake of the phone hacking scandal and questions over the running of Fox News in the U.S., whether the Murdochs should be put in charge of a merged Fox-Sky, which would trail only the BBC and ITN in terms of share of the U.K. news media.