K E Y P O I N T S
- Rupert Murdoch’s proposed takeover of Sky is not in the public interest, Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) provisionally rules
- The £11.7 billion deal would damage the UK’s “media plurality”
- It would also give the Murdoch family “too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda”, watchdog warns
- However, the CMA found that the deal would not be against the public interest on the grounds of broadcasting standards
- News outlets controlled by the Murdoch Family Trust (MFT) are already watched, read or heard by almost a third of the UK population
- Only the BBC and ITV have control of a larger share of the public’s news consumption
- 21st Century Fox said it was “disappointed” by the CMA’s decision
- Sky is “seeking submissions” on remedies to concerns about media plurality
- Walt Disney has agreed a £39 billion deal to buy Fox’s entertainment assets, so may end up owning Sky, including Sky News
- The CMA’s final report on the proposed handover will be published by May 1
- Culture Secretary Matt Hancock will then make the final decision on the proposed deal
S N A P V E R D I C T
From HuffPost UK’s editor-in-chief Polly Curtis
Sky News has a relatively small audience: around 9 million people tune in at some point during a month; more than 13 million watched the Strictly Come Dancing final alone last year. But it’s influence is huge. Every newsroom and government communications department is permanently tuned in. It invented breaking news formats in this country, people tune in when the biggest events occur: a terror attack, a major natural disaster around the world, an election result.
The preliminary decision to block the merger of Sky and Fox matters because it would have concentrated media power in the UK into the hands of Rupert Murdoch. It would have meant that three of the most influential news sources in the UK: Sky, The Times and The Sun were ultimately owned by one family. Sky influences the media, The Times is very influential in government circles, The Sun retains influence over public opinion. This feels like too much concentration of influence to someone who has faced persistent questions about his attempts to exert political and social influence through the media. The CMA concluded that such a deal would have given “too much control over news providers in the UK across all media platforms and therefore too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda”.
The second decision made by the CMA was to clear the deal on the grounds of Murdoch’s commitment to broadcasting standards. These were raised after the phone-hacking scandals that hit his newspapers, most famously the News of The World that closed as a result, and allegations of sexual harassment at Fox News in the US. A final decision on the deal, after Murdoch’s corporation attempts to make remedies to the concerns raised in this preliminary report, is due later in the spring. What happens next to Sky News is key, Murdoch could try to sell it off from the rest of Sky to address the media plurality question, raising questions over the future of the channel.
The ruling raises other important questions about the concentration of media power in the UK. A separate debate is raging about the big tech companies and their social media channels – Facebook, YouTube, Google and Instagram – who now control so much of what people see and read every day. Yet they do not face the same regulation. What’s the biggest influence over public opinion in 2018: newspapers with dwindling sales and a small but influential news channel? Or the social media feeds that take up hours of our days?
R E A C T I O N
Veteran Sky Journalist Adam Boulton
[Sky] a combined share of the public’s news consumption that is significantly greater than all other news providers, except the BBC and ITN - i.e. plurality #CMALogic— Adam Boulton (@adamboultonSKY) January 23, 2018
Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson
The Competition and Markets Authority is right to say that the Fox takeover of Sky would give the Murdoch family too much power. This is the right decision for the UK.— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) January 23, 2018
Lib Dem leader Vince Cable
W H A T N E X T ?
Following the publication of its provisional report, the CMA has now set out a series of potential remedies to the outlined issues of media plurality, with Sky announcing this morning it is “seeking submissions on these”.
The authority’s final report on Fox’s proposed takeover will be published by May 1, when culture secretary Matt Hancock will make the final decision on the deal.
However, Disney’s bid to buy a large part of 21st Century Fox’s business, could mean that it ends up owning Sky if the deal is approved by US regulators.
Sky’s destiny is then likely to depend on whether Disney is willing to invest in Sky, which is currently making a loss.