The British government is seeking further advice from Ofcom on Rupert Murdoch’s £11.7bn swoop for Sky after receiving “new evidence and comments”.
The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has written to the communications regulator asking for extra input before Culture Secretary Karen Bradley decides whether the proposed tie-up should face an in-depth investigation. Ms Bradley said last month that she was “still minded” to refer the takeover tilt to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) following a report by Ofcom flagging “public interest concerns” surrounding media plurality.
In a statement, the DCMS said Ofcom had been given a two-week window in which to respond and expected a reply by no later than August 25. It said: “The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has written to Ofcom under section 106B(2) of the Enterprise Act 2002, seeking further clarification in relation to representations made on the Secretary of State’s referral decision.
“After assessing the large number of representations made in relation to the Secretary of State’s referral decision, a number of these raise new evidence and/or comment on the Ofcom assessment. “Any referral decision by the Secretary of State must be taken on the basis of a valid assessment of all the relevant evidence.
“For this reason the DCMS has asked Ofcom to advise on a number of points arising from these representations.” Ofcom warned Ms Bradley in June that an attempt by Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox to acquire the 61% of Sky it does not already own risks handing the tycoon’s family “increased influence” over the UK’s news agenda and the political process.
Since then, the Murdoch family have piled the pressure on the Secretary of State, saying her treatment of their bid for Sky will prove a test case for how far Britain is “open for business”. Mr Murdoch’s approach comes after his last attempt at taking over the business through News Corporation in 2011.
The tilt faced opposition from media industry rivals and politicians before it was scuppered by acute pressure on the company, brought about by phone-hacking claims involving News International. Responding to the DCMS, an Ofcom spokesman said: “We have received the department’s request for further clarifications and will respond within the requested time.”