Foxs Sky bid delayed again as Culture Secretary ducks difficult decision

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Hang on, wasn’t Rupert Murdoch’s bid for Sky supposed to be with the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA)?

It appears the starting stalls on that process, which was always going to be a race for stayers rather than a sprint, have failed to open. 

Culture secretary Karen Bradley said she was minded to refer the bid by 21 Century Fox, which Mr Murdoch chairs, for the just over sixty per cent of Sky that it doesn’t own at the end of June. And she still is. She’s just not quite ready to push the button. 

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The backdrop could scarcely be more complicated.  Media watchdog OfCom was originally called upon to run the slide rule over the bid, understandable enough given the scandals at the US Fox News Channel (centring on sexual harassment) and with the phone hacking scandal at Mr Murdoch’s now spun off newspaper arm still in the public memory. 

OfCom came back and opined that Fox would be a fit and proper owner for Sky but identified an increased risk of “influence by members of the Murdoch Family Trust over the UK news agenda and the political process”. 

That is a nod to the fact that, while the Murdoch family might have separated its broadcasting interests from its publishing, Rupert Murdoch and his sons still run the two businesses. Their family trust is also the leading shareholder in both companies. 

OfCom clearly wanted no part of a complete can of worms. Its between the lines advice to Ms Bradley can be translated thus: Send it to the CMA. 

But campaigners, such as the activist group Avaaz, think OfCom missed a trick and are threatening legal action. Hacked Off is also spitting tacks. 

No one appears to be particularly happy with the delay, not least Fox, which said it had worked jolly hard at undertakings designed to address OfCom’s concerns. It urged  the secretary of state “in light of the transaction’s benefits to the UK creative economy… to complete the regulatory process expeditiously”. 

That’s not going to happen. Ms Bradley really needs that extra time to consider the arguments, you see.

She says she’ll make a decision in a matter of weeks. Which could easily turn into months given that Government ministers don’t seem to have much time for anything other than arguing about Brexit and then briefing against each other. 

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The business of running a country? That can go to hell (which is where the country looks like it’s headed). 

I’d imagine that the CMA will still get this in the end, because an investigation by it holds out the prospect of still more delay and because it might just save Ms Bradley from a difficult decision that threatens to ignite a firestorm around her. 

Only one thing is for certain: They won’t be referring to the Culture Secretary as the Minister for Fun anymore. Ms Bradley doesn’t have the worst job in Government. But there a quite a few ministers who wouldn’t want to be in her shoes right now. 

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