UK culture secretary throws Murdochs a lifeline to Sky
LONDON (AP) — Britain’s culture secretary threw 21st Century Fox’s bid for satellite broadcaster Sky a lifeline Tuesday, saying he will approve the deal if the company takes steps to ensure that Sky’s news channel remains financially viable and independent for the long term.
In a statement to lawmakers, Matt Hancock said he agreed with competition regulators that Fox’s proposal to sell Sky News is the best way to address public interest concerns. But the culture minister said he needs further guarantees that the channel will remain a “major U.K.-based news provider” before he allows the takeover to go forward.
Hancock said his officials would begin immediate discussions with Fox.
“I am optimistic that we can achieve this goal, not least given the willingness 21st Century Fox has shown in developing these credible proposals,” he said.
Fox’s effort to acquire the 61 percent of Sky it doesn’t already own has been held up by concerns that the 11.7 billion-pound ($16.4 billion) deal would give Rupert Murdoch and his family too much control over British media. They already own several influential newspapers.
Hancock’s comments followed an acknowledgement from Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority that Walt Disney Co.’s $52.4 billion bid for most of Fox could eliminate concerns about Murdoch’s control of Sky News.
Also Tuesday, Hancock said he would allow Comcast’s 22 billion-pound ($30.7 billion) bid for Sky to proceed to the next stage. The decision opens the possibility of a bidding war for the lucrative property, which has 22.5 million customers in the U.K., Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy.
Fox’s bid for Sky is the most recent episode in Murdoch’s long-running effort to take full control of the company.
His last bid foundered amid a 2011 phone-hacking scandal, in which journalists working for Murdoch newspapers were accused of gaining illegal access to the voicemail messages of crime victims, celebrities and members of the royal family.
News Corp., which is controlled by the Murdochs, withdrew its bid for Sky soon after.