Sky Takeover December 2016

Thank you for contacting me recently regarding the proposed takeover of Sky by 21st Century Fox and the related campaign by 38 Degrees.

I share your concern about the proposed takeover and I know from the large number of emails I have received on this issue that many people feel strongly about it. Indeed, over 100,000 people have already signed the online petition.

I am incredibly concerned by the takeover as it would leave Sky TV, 21st Century Fox, The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times and TalkSport under one man’s control. We can never build a free press and media if ownership is concentrated in a few hands. This undermines there being a diversity of views and voices. It also means the tone is set for the independent broadcasters and newspapers by an over-powerful block of owners.

I agree that the Culture Secretary should refer the bid to Ofcom once the Government receives formal notification of it, to assess whether it would result in too much media power being concentrated in too few hands. They must also assess whether Rupert and James Murdoch are 'fit and proper persons' to run a broadcaster.

As you may be aware, when Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation sought complete ownership of BSkyB five years ago the House of Commons united behind a motion calling for the bid to be withdrawn in the public interest. The concerns were not only about the serious wrongdoing being uncovered in the phone hacking scandal but about the concentration of media power and ownership in fewer hands.

Earlier this month, as soon as possible after Sky announced it had received an approach from 21st Century Fox, the Opposition asked an Urgent Question in the House of Commons, forcing the Government to make a statement. The Government was rightly pressed to refer the bid to Ofcom. It must be prepared to stand up to powerful interests and ensure that this proposed deal is properly and independently scrutinised.

The Government has stated that it will be fair and impartial in its handling of the takeover bid and will not comment on it. I understand the frustration caused by this. It would be outrageous if the bid were pushed through over the Christmas holidays when Parliament is not sitting.

Moreover, the Government should not cancel the vital second part of the Leveson Inquiry, which would look at questions around unlawful or improper conduct within the Murdoch empire, at exactly the moment when Rupert Murdoch is attempting once again to strengthen his hold over the UK media. By allowing Leveson 2 to go ahead and report, the Government has the chance to settle this issue for the next hundred years.

I have written to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Karen Bradley, urging her to refer the bid to OfCom immediately. Please be assured I will continue to follow any further developments closely. Thank you once again for taking the time to bring your views to my attention.


 

On 17 January 2017, I received the following response from Matt Hancock MP, Minister for Digital and Culture:

Dear Graham,

Thank you for your correspondence of 21 December, to the Secretary of State for
Culture, Media and Sport, the Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP, on behalf of a number of your
constituents about the recent announcement by Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. of its
proposed bid for Sky PLC. I am replying as the Minister responsible for this policy area.

As I set out to the House on 12 December, the Secretary of State for Culture Media and
Sport has power to intervene in certain media mergers on public interest grounds as set
out under the Enterprise Act 2002. In line with Government guidance, the Secretary of
State will aim to take a decision on whether to intervene in a specific acquisition/merger
within 10 working days of the merger being notified to the relevant competition
authorities.

On 10 January, the Secretary of State made a written statement to Parliament providing
a further update on the proposed merger.

As indicated in that statement, no such notification has yet been made by Twenty-First
Century Fox. Twenty-First Century Fox have, however, been in contact with DCMS
officials and have confirmed that they intend to notify the proposed merger to the
European Commission for review under the EU merger regulation. Before formal
notification, the parties intend to engage in pre-notification discussions with the
Commission from January onwards. The timing of a formal notification to the
Commission is therefore not fixed and will happen dependent on the parties’ on-going
discussions with the Commission. It is in the nature of this process that we cannot
know in advance the dates upon which certain steps will happen.

The Secretary of State’s written statement also set out that, given the clear intention of
the parties to engage with the Commission informally, she has asked officials to prepare
and put in place the necessary procedures to ensure that when she can make a
decision quickly as possible based on the relevant information in front of her. She also
confirmed that officials have commenced their work to analyse the relevance of the
public interest considerations as set out in the Enterprise Act 2002 to the merger. In
doing so, they will look at the available evidence and will consider representations which
are relevant to those specified public interests. This is preparatory work; the point has
not yet been reached where she will be taking a decision on whether or not to
intervene.

The statement reaffirmed that any decision the Secretary of State does take on whether
or not to intervene will be a quasi-judicial one and it is important that she is able to act
independently and that the process is scrupulously fair and impartial. For this reason,
and as we explained to the House on 20 December, she will not be commenting on the
merits of the proposed merger.

Finally, as set out in the statement, we do recognise that this is an issue of significant
interest to the public and has raised a lot of interest in Parliament, as well as being a
significant issue for the parties concerned and has given a very clear undertaking to
keeping Parliament informed of the process as it moves ahead. She will make a further
statement when the parties have formally notified the Commission, ahead of making
any decision about whether to intervene.

Yours ever

The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP

Minister of State for Digital and Culture