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Fox’s Sky takeover facing further delays

Media company 21st Century Fox’s bid to take full control of European pay-television operator Sky has been met with further delays after the UK government requested media regulator Ofcom to undertake further analysis of its adherence to broadcasting standards.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said it has written to Ofcom seeking further clarification in relation to representations made on the referral decision of Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

UK newspaper The Guardian said the DCMS has intervened after the government and Ofcom faced pressure to widen their investigation into Fox’s suitability to acquire Sky amid allegations that Fox News had colluded with the White House on a story that included fabricated quotes.

The DCMS said in a statement: “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. The Department has asked that the advice is provided as soon as possible and no later than 25 August 2017.”

The Guardian said this deadline means the government is almost certain to delay a final decision on whether to refer the deal to the Competition and Markets Authority until parliament returns from summer recess in September. 

The newspaper added that Ofcom has been asked for its comments on a range of broadcasting standards issues, stating the government’s view of the deal has not been altered by a single incident.

On July 20, Bradley confirmed that she had not yet decided whether to refer the proposed takeover of Sky to the CMA for a ‘phase two’ investigation.

Bradley, who has already said that she is “minded to” refer the deal to the watchdog due to concerns about media plurality, said that, despite having received representations from various parties involved in the deal, nothing had led her to change her mind at this point.

Sky later released a statement to say it was “disappointed by this further delay.” Fox has already received regulatory approval in all other required territories for its proposed takeover of Sky, a major sports broadcaster in Austria, Germany, Italy and the UK and Ireland. Fox is bidding to acquire the 61 per cent of Sky that it does not own.