The U.K. Competition and Markets Authority warned in a preliminary finding last month that a Fox takeover of satcaster Sky would not be in the public interest because too much media power would rest in the hands of Rupert Murdoch and his family, who also own the newspapers The Times of London and the Sun. To alleviate those fears, Fox has proposed further “firewall remedies” that include a commitment to set up an independent editorial board for Sky News, a well-respected news outlet. The board would act free from any influence by Fox.
Fox also pledged to keep funding Sky-branded news services for at least five years.
The proposed concessions were submitted to the Competition and Markets Authority last week. Officials made the 59-page document public Monday.
Fox’s proposals call for an independent board to have “sole responsibility for setting editorial strategy and direction for Sky News’ digital, television and radio output.” Only the board would be able to hire and fire the head of Sky News and senior employees, including presenters. In addition, “no employee or officer” of 21st Century Fox or member of the Murdoch family would “influence or attempt to influence the editorial choices made by the head of Sky News.”
If all its suggestions are enacted, Fox said, “there could be no circumstances in which…the [Murdoch Family Trust] or members of the Murdoch family could influence, whether directly or indirectly, the editorial line or policy of Sky News.”
21st Century Fox’s latest bid to buy up the 61% of Sky it doesn’t already own was launched more than a year ago. But the transaction has been held up by regulatory and government scrutiny in Britain, with the most recent snag being the competition authority’s provisional warning of an adverse impact on media plurality if the takeover goes through as proposed. Opponents of the deal also contend that the Murdochs and Fox, in light of sexual and racial harassment scandals at Fox News in the U.S., would not be suitable owners of Sky, though this argument has been rejected by regulators.
Fox’s previous play for the pan-European pay-TV service foundered in 2011 amid the phone-hacking scandal engulfing Murdoch’s British newspapers. Since the bid was revived, Disney has made an offer for a chunk of Fox’s entertainment assets, which would include Sky if both the Fox-Sky and Disney-Fox deals go through. In that case, the concessions offered by Fox to safeguard Sky News would fall away, as the Murdoch family would not be in control of Sky’s new parent company, Disney.