LONDON (Reuters) - The British government will give its verdict on Rupert Murdoch’s 18-month pursuit of Sky SKYB.L by June 13, potentially paving the way for the mogul’s Fox to take on Comcast in the battle for the British TV group.
Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA.O) agreed a deal to buy the 61 percent of Sky it did not already own in December 2016, but the takeover has been repeatedly held up by politicians and regulators who fear it will give Murdoch too much influence in Britain.
Fox has offered commitments designed to protect the editorial independence of Sky’s News division but both sides were stunned in February when U.S. media group Comcast (CMCSA.O) made a rival offer.
Comcast has since made that a formal $31 billion bid.
“My decision will be on whether the merger operates or may be expected to operate against the public interest, taking into account the specified public interest considerations of media plurality and genuine commitment to broadcasting standards,” Secretary of State for Culture and Media Matt Hancock, said in a written ministerial statement.
Fox’s bid for Sky has been complicated by its more recent agreement to sell many of its TV and film assets to Walt Disney Co (DIS.N), including its stake in Sky, for $52 billion.
Fox said it had offered a range of undertakings that would fund and protect the editorial independence of Sky News. It said this underscored its “long-standing commitment to the excellence and complete editorial independence of the news service we created 28 years ago.
“These enhanced remedies go above and beyond what Ofcom, the expert independent regulator on UK broadcasting, had stated would mitigate concerns around media plurality. We now look forward to the Secretary of State’s decision.”
Hancock said he would deliver his final verdict to parliament. He said however that having given his verdict, he would consider any further undertakings that may be made by Fox and offer the industry the chance to give their verdict.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has been investigating whether the deal will give Murdoch, who owns the Times and Sun newspapers, too much influence in Britain’s news media. It sent its assessment to Hancock on Tuesday, giving him 30 working days to assess the deal.
Reporting by Paul Sandle and Kate Holton; Editing by Susan Fenton