Rupert Murdoch will have to wait a little while longer to claim his long-coveted ownership of Sky after the government threw another spanner in the works by asking Ofcom to further scrutinize 21st century Fox’s adherence to broadcasting standards.
The 11th hour intervention from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) comes amid growing political pressure for the controversial takeover to be fully investigated - amid allegations that Murdoch-owned Fox News had colluded with the White House on a story which was subsequently shown to contain fabricated quotes; allegations it denies.
Opponents, including a group of high-profile Labour MPs led by former leader Ed Miliband, threatened legal action against DCMS if it failed to instruct the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to fully investigate the deal on the basis of broadcasting standards, according to a report in the Guardian. The group also argues that a sexual harassment scandal at Fox News and phone hacking at News of the World make Murdoch an improper custodian of Sky.
The upshot of this latest intervention is that the government is now almost certain not to make its final decision on whether to refer the takeover to the CMS until after parliament’s summer recess in September.
In a statement the DCMS said: “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.”
21st Century Fox is on the cusp of purchasing a remaining 61% stake in Sky for £11.7bn but Downing Street has been accused of cosying up to the Murdoch's by granting regular ministerial access.