In blow to Murdoch, UK refers Fox bid for Sky to regulator

LONDON (AP) — The British government will refer Twenty-First Century Fox Inc.’s bid for satellite broadcaster Sky to the country’s competition regulator for further examination, in a blow to Rupert Murdoch’s takeover plans.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley told lawmakers Tuesday that she intended to refer the takeover to the Competition and Markets Authority because of concerns that the deal might concentrate too much power in one company’s hands.

And she said she was also “minded” to refer it out of concerns about broadcasting standards. Bradley said there is a risk, “which is not purely fanciful,” that the merger would not be in the public interest.

Murdoch’s media group is trying to buy the 61 percent of Sky it doesn’t already own. The takeover values Sky, which broadcasts Premier League soccer and top film and television offerings, at 18.5 billion pounds ($25 billion).

U.K. broadcast regulator Ofcom had previously said the takeover could give the Murdoch family too much influence over Britain’s media.

An earlier attempt to buy the remaining shares was scuttled by the 2011 phone-hacking scandal that rocked Murdoch’s British newspapers.

Bradley’s announcement is a victory for Murdoch’s critics, who have been emboldened by scandals over alleged racial discrimination and sexual harassment at his U.S. TV network Fox News. They say Murdoch does not meet the requirement that U.K. media owners be “fit and proper” people.

Bradley said that because of submissions she had received over the summer, “I am now minded to refer the merger to the (regulator) on the grounds of genuine commitment to broadcasting standards.”

She said one area raised by critics of the deal was “what they termed the ‘Foxification’ of Fox-owned news outlets internationally.”

British broadcasters are bound by stricter rules governing balance and neutrality than those in the United States.

Bradley said it was “important that entities which adopt controversial or partisan approaches to news and current affairs in other jurisdictions should, at the same time, have a genuine commitment to broadcasting standards here.”

Once a formal referral takes place, the regulator will have six months to conduct an investigation.

Sky shares fell on the news, to trade 2.9 percent lower at 925 pence.

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