Sky takeover bid: Letter from James and Lachlan Murdoch fails to change Culture ministers mind

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A letter from ’s sons, James and Lachlan, failed to persuade the Culture Secretary, Karen Bradley, to change her decision to refer 21st Century Fox’s proposed to the competition watchdog.

Further representations were provided by both  and , but neither of the parties have taken any additional undertakings in lieu, the Culture Secretary told the House of Commons on Thursday.

Ms Bradley underlined the fact that she cannot make a decision until all representations provided by the parties had been considered. Since the deadline for providing those representations was last Friday, she has not had time to do so.

However, she said that none of the representations that she had so far considered had persuaded her to change her position, and that she was still “minded to” refer the bid to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on grounds of media plurality.

The Culture Secretary did not rule out referring the decision on the other matter of broadcasting standards. 

She said a decision could be made in the coming weeks, potentially during Parliament’s summer recess, and that she would write to interested parties when she had made up her mind on the issue.

If the issue is referred, the CMA will conduct a thorough “phase-two investigation” into the bid, looking at whether the combined company, which is controlled by the Murdoch family, would have too much power over the UK media.

’s 21st Century Fox is trying to buy the remaining 61 per cent of Sky that it does not already own. The UK is the final country required to grant approval for the deal after regulators in the other territories in which Sky operates – Ireland, Austria, Germany and Italy – all gave the green light.

Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson welcomed the Government’s “indecision” on the bid, and called on Ms Bradley to demonstrate “she is in charge”, rather than 21st Century Fox.

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Mr Watson told the Commons he respected her for taking her “quasi-judicial responsibilities seriously”, and said: “She will be aware that, whatever decision she makes, there is a strong possibility of judicial review by one side or the other.

“21st Century Fox’s lawyers have already written a somewhat intimidating letter to the Secretary of State trying to bounce her into a decision.

“We know that aggression is the Murdochs’ modus operandi. We’ve been on the receiving end of it in this House and we urge the Secretary of State to keep standing firm.”

Mr Watson added: “There is absolutely no need for the Secretary of State to announce a decision during the summer recess – Parliament must have the opportunity to scrutinise any decision she makes.

“It is not her job to operate to 21st Century Fox’s corporate timetable – they have to abide by the parliamentary timetable.

“And she should demonstrate to them that she, as an elected representative of the people, is in charge, not them.”

Mr Watson asked Ms Bradley to “get on and just do” part two of the Leveson inquiry.

Media regulator Ofcom raised concerns last month over the influence the Murdochs would have on the political process in the UK, should the takeover go ahead. Mr Murdoch has separated his newspapers from his TV assets in recent years, but his family still has significant control over both.

Mr Murdoch is co-chairman of Fox and executive chairman of News Corporation, which owns The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun. His son, James, is chief executive of Fox and chairman of Sky. 

The current bid comes six years after the media tycoon’s last attempt at taking the business over through News Corp in 2011.

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