Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox has urged Culture Secretary Karen Bradley not to delay a full competition inquiry into its bid for Sky, as political opponents of the deal pressure her to revisit her verdict on broadcasting standards.
In a strongly worded letter written by Fox’s lawyers Allen & Overy on Tuesday and released to the media, the company said a reversal of the decision would be “irrational”, adding that bowing to the pressure would “constitute the most blatant form of political interference”.
Ms Bradley announced on June 29 that she was minded to refer the takeover to the Competition and Markets Authority amid concerns that the £11.7bn deal could hand Mr Murdoch too much power over the UK media. She is expected to make an announcement on her next steps on Thursday before parliament rises for the summer recess.
However, based on a report by the UK media watchdog Ofcom, the minister has already indicated there are no grounds to block the deal based on Fox’s commitment to British broadcasting standards. She also dismissed fears that Fox and its senior executives were unfit to hold a UK licence.
Last week a group of anti-Murdoch MPs, led by former Labour leader Ed Miliband and the Liberal Democrat leadership candidate Vince Cable, wrote to Ms Bradley to try and change her mind, arguing Ofcom had made a serious legal error.
The politicians said the watchdog should have taken the recent sexual harassment scandal at Fox News in the US and historic phone hacking at Mr Murdoch’s UK newspapers into account.
But Fox’s letter rejects this saying the MPs have presented no new or substantial evidence – the threshold Ms Bradley set when inviting responses ahead of a final decision on a CMA referral.
“Clearly the Murdochs are rattled by rightful scrutiny their bid and their corporate record are receiving,” said Mr Miliband.
“The Secretary of State must not bow to the outrageous attempts to intimidate her by the Murdochs. She must give due and proper consideration to all representations on whether to refer the bid to the CMA on grounds of broadcasting standards as well as plurality.”
The Fox letter is also critical of Mr Cable, citing a newspaper investigation from 2010 in which he told undercover reporters that he had “declared war on Murdoch”. At the time Mr Cable was responsible for the decision on whether to green light Mr Murdoch’s last bid for Sky which was withdrawn in 2011 following a public outcry over phone hacking.