Rupert Murdoch’s bid to take full control of Sky will come under fresh scrutiny this week when an influential group of politicians meets with Ofcom to express their opposition to the tycoon’s latest takeover attempt.
Former Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable told the Press Association that the group is set to approach the communications watchdog just days after sending a letter outlining concerns over alleged governance failures and a lack of transparency at Mr Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox.
“I, together with various people from different parties – Ken Clarke, Ed Miliband, Lord Falconer – have approached Ofcom and we are going to make representations to them,” he said. Mr Miliband’s office confirmed that the group has requested a meeting for this week.
Fox is aiming to seize control of the 61% of Sky it does not own already and UK regulators have been given an extended deadline – now June 20 – to review the £11.7 billion takeover bid, in light of the June 8 General Election.
While the deal has been given the green light by EU regulators, Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and communication watchdog Ofcom have yet to complete their own investigations. Once the CMA and Ofcom reports have been received, the Culture Secretary will have 10 working days to decide whether to approve the deal or ask for a more in-depth report.
The new timeline means that Sky’s fortunes could be decided as early as July 4. Mr Murdoch’s bid comes five years after his last tilt at taking the business over through News Corporation in 2011, when Mr Cable served as business secretary.
The attempt 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. The controversy also saw Mr Cable stripped of his responsibilities for overseeing media competition after he was secretly recorded by reporters saying he had “declared war” on Mr Murdoch over the takeover attempt.
Mr Miliband and Mr Cable’s group warned in one of its letters to Ofcom this month that there was “clear evidence of the Murdochs’ pattern of secrecy and lack of transparency about corporate failure being repeated at Fox News, the subject of ongoing Federal investigations.”
It follows recent controversy over sexual harassment allegations against former Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes, who lost his job last summer but reportedly left with a 40 million US dollar settlement (£30.9 million).
Similar allegations have now led to the exit of onscreen presenter Bill O’Reilly, the April 21 letter to Ofcom noted. It added that the Murdochs must have either known about the allegations for years and failed to act – or, if they did not know, “must face grave questions about the supervision of their company.”
“We said in our original letter that no reasonable Ofcom (investigation) could conclude that the Murdoch’s were fit and proper to take full control of Sky,” said the letter.
“We believe these new revelations reinforce that view and trust you will take account of this mounting evidence.”