Disney could acquire Sky News if that would assuage concerns over the news channel’s independence from Fox, according to a new offer by 21st Century Fox to try to ease its proposed takeover of satcaster Sky past British authorities.
Sky News has become an important part of the $15-billion takeover bid as opponents contend that 21st Century Fox (which also owns Fox News) would not be a fit and proper owner of the channel, citing broadcasting standards and plurality concerns. In a filing submitted to the Competition and Markets Authority published Tuesday, Fox said Disney could buy Sky News and take it out of Fox’s hands altogether.
“The Walt Disney Company…has expressed an interest in acquiring Sky News, with a view to adding it to Disney’s existing portfolio of television channels, whether or not Disney’s proposed acquisition of 21CF proceeds,” Fox said.
Disney issued its own statement backing the idea. “If the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport agrees, and Fox acquires Sky, Disney would buy Sky News and agree to sustain the operating capital of Sky News and maintain its editorial independence,” Disney said, adding: “The divestment of Sky News to Disney is separate from, and not conditional on, Disney’s acquisition of Fox.”
As an alternative, Fox has also offered to establish Sky News as a separate entity overseen by an independent board – a solution it offered in its previous, thwarted attempt to buy out the 61% of Sky that it does not already own. Fox added further concessions to that offer Tuesday, saying it would fund the independent organization for 15 years, whereas it had previously offered to fund it for a decade.
Fox is now facing competition for control of the business from Comcast, which has lodged a richer bid. While that situation plays out, Fox is continuing to attempt to get its bid approved by U.K. authorities, who have expressed a series of concerns that have delayed completion of the deal.
“We are aware that a group of politicians that is opposed to the transaction is seeking to influence the CMA and is making a number of unsupported and fanciful assertions,” Fox said.
It warned British authorities not to be swayed by those arguments. “If the CMA were to accept at face value these assertions and be dissatisfied with enhanced remedies that are a direct and reasonable response to concerns it had raised with us, we believe that this would compromise the integrity of a system which is supposed to be objective, evidenced-based and grounded on the application of established legal principles,” Fox said.
Sky, which has already recommended its shareholders accept the Fox offer, also reacted to the latest remedies offered. “Sky believes that both of these remedy proposals comprehensively address any plurality concerns the CMA may have, and would guarantee the long-term future of Sky News and its ongoing editorial independence,” it said. “As the regulatory process remains ongoing, shareholders are advised to take no action at this stage.”