Culture Secretary Karen Bradley has received the latest guidance from Ofcom, the media regulator, on the proposed takeover of Sky plc, the owner of Sky News, by US entertainment giant 21st Century Fox, the Department for Culture, Media & Sport said today.
Ofcom carried out an assessment of the £18.5bn takeover at the request of Ms Bradley earlier this year.
It investigated whether a takeover would reduce the plurality of media ownership in the UK and whether Fox, the world’s fourth largest media company, could be relied on to adhere to UK broadcasting standards.
Separately, Ofcom was also asked to examine whether the directors of 21st Century Fox were ‘fit and proper’ to hold a UK broadcasting licence.
The regulator said at the end of June that there was no reason to block the takeover on the ‘fit and proper’ test and, after receiving certain undertakings from Fox, said there were no grounds for blocking it on the grounds of either plurality or broadcasting standards.
However, following complaints from a number of MPs, including the former Labour leader Ed Miliband and the Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable, Ms Bradley last month asked Ofcom to go over the evidence again.
She has previously said she was “minded” to refer the proposed takeover to the Competition & Markets Authority for a more detailed investigation that could take up to six months.
The DCMS said today: “We have today received Ofcom’s response and the Secretary of State will now carefully consider the advice before making her decision on the referral on the basis of all the evidence before her, as soon as is reasonably practicable.”
It said this would be made public “in due course”.
Sky has previously criticised the delays caused by the way the referral process is being dragged out, arguing: “Businesses require a level of certainty in order to plan and invest.”
Fox, which already owns a 39.1% stake in Sky, announced in December last year that it planned to buy the remaining shares in Sky that it does not already own. The likelihood of a referral to the CMA means it has put back the date by when it expects to complete the takeover to the end of June next year.
All of the other countries in which Sky operates – Germany, Austria, Italy and the Republic of Ireland – have already given the takeover the green light, while the European Commission has also said there are no grounds on which to block the proposed takeover.