A decision of Rupert Murdoch’s £11.7 billion bid to take full control of Sky has been announced
Miss Bradley told the Commons that Ofcom’s report into the deal risked the Murdoch family having “increased influence” over the UK’s news agenda and the political process.
“On the basis of Ofcom’s assessment, I confirm that I am minded to refer to a phase two investigation on the grounds of media plurality,” she said.
The investigation could take up to six months and is unlikely to report before the end of 2017.
Miss Bradley said that Ofcom’s report was “unambiguous”, telling MPs: “The reasoning and evidence on which Ofcom’s recommendation is based are persuasive.
“The proposed entity would have the third largest total reach of any news provider – lower only than the BBC and ITN – and would, uniquely, span news coverage on television, radio, in newspapers and online.
“Ofcom’s report states that the proposed transaction would give the Murdoch Family Trust material influence over news providers with a significant presence across all key platforms.
“This potentially raises public interest concerns because, in Ofcom’s view, the transaction may increase members of the Murdoch Family Trust’s ability to influence the overall news agenda and their ability to influence the political process and it may also result in the perception of increased influence.
Karen Bradley is minded to refer Rupert Murdoch’s bid to take control of Sky to a further inquiry
“These are clear grounds whereby a referral to a phase two investigation is warranted – so that is what I am minded to do.”
Miss Bradley said parties involved in the process can make representations to her before she reaches a final decision, with a deadline of July 14.
She added she is “minded not to refer” the bid to a phase two investigation in relation to a “genuine commitment to broadcasting standards”.
Miss Bradley added: “While there are strong feelings among both supporters and opponents of this merger, in this quasi-judicial process, my decisions can only be influenced by facts, not opinions – and by the quality of evidence, not who shouts the loudest.”
The UK is the final hurdle to pass before the deal can be done
Mr Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox needs the approval in all the territories in which it operates for its plans to buy the 61% of Sky it does not already own.
It has already been given the green light by regulators in Ireland, Austria, Germany and Italy, which left the UK as the final hurdle to pass before the deal can be done.
Ofcom submitted its public interest report to the Government last Tuesday, while the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) also handed over its assessments of the deal.
Miss Bradley must now decide whether or not to refer the deal for a fuller “phase 2 investigation” by the CMA, considering Ofcom’s findings on whether the deal is in the public interest and if Fox’s directors meet a “fit and proper” test.
Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson has been a longterm critic of the Murdoch empire
Mr Murdoch’s bid comes five years after his last attempt at taking the business over through News Corporation in 2011.The bid faced opposition from media industry rivals and politicians before it was scuppered by acute pressure on the company brought about by phone-hacking claims involving News International.
While Mr Murdoch has hived off the newspapers into a separate company, News Corp, critics of the deal this time around argue the family is still the ultimate owner of both the newspaper and TV assets in the UK and therefore has substantial control over the UK news media.
Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson, a longterm critic of the Murdoch empire, applauded the decision and told Miss Bradley that she should be grateful that she was “free” of the Murdoch influence.
Mr Watson said the decision was drawn from “the old playbook” as he predicted the Government would eventually allow the merger to go ahead.
He said: “The Secretary of State has known all along what she wants to end up doing but she has to follow the established dance steps.
“So let me make a prediction now.
“The parties have proposed some pretty minor undertakings in lieu.
“They always knew they weren’t going to be enough to satisfy Ofcom so the Secretary of State will demand extra conditions, as a result of which she will be written up as a tough operator.
“The parties will offer something new which they always had in their back pockets, the Secretary of State will accept them as they always planned and this merger will go ahead.”
Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch
Mr Watson said undertakings from the Murdoch family were “not worth the newsprint they are written on”, as he warned that lessons had not been learned from the phone-hacking scandal.
He told MPs: “Given everything we know about [Mr Murdoch] and his company’s behaviour over phone-hacking, and given everything we know about Fox’s behaviour on the ongoing sexual harassment scandal in the United States, then that says more about the rules than it does about Mr Murdoch.
“It’s clear that the rules need to be reviewed and if the current Conservative Government won’t do that then the next Labour government will.”
Mr Watson vowed to “put media barons on notice”, saying it was time to end the culture of people dominating the UK media market but paying taxes overseas.
He also accused the Conservatives of forming “an implicit bargain” with the Murdochs as he pushed Miss Bradley to order part two of the Leveson Inquiry into phone-hacking.
Miss Bradley hit back at his claims, saying she was disappointed at “cynical” attempts to politicise the issue and to prejudge the decision.