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Fox faces Sky delay as government calls on Ofcom to look at ‘new evidence’

The UK government has said that submissions made in relation to 21st Century Fox’s planned acquisition of Sky “raise new evidence” and has asked media regulator Ofcom to take a fresh look at the deal.

The UK department for digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) said a number of representations made to it “raise new evidence and/or comment on the Ofcom assessment” and that it was seeking “further clarification” in relation to those representations.

The decision to seek further clarification from Ofcom relates to Fox’s likely adherence to broadcasting standards.

Karen Bradley

Karen Bradley

Secretary of state Karen Bradley had earlier said that she was “minded” to refer Fox’s bid to competition regulator the CMA on the grounds of media plurality, but that she was satisfied with Ofcom’s assessment that the deal did not raise broadcasting standards concerns.

In her statement to parliament on July 20, Bradley said that the Ofcom evidence was “clear” on broadcasting standards that “there were no grounds on which I can refer” the bid. However, she said she would look at any new evidence.

A number of UK politicians, including former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and shadow culture spokesman Tom Watson, have called for a reopening of the investigation of the broadcasting standards question – calls that have become louder following recent events related to Fox News in the US.

“Any referral decision by the Secretary of State must be taken on the basis of a valid assessment of all the relevant evidence. For this reason the DCMS has asked Ofcom to advise on a number of points arising from these representations. The Department has asked that the advice is provided as soon as possible and no later than 25 August 2017,” said the DCMS.

The move means that the final decision on whether to refer the bid to the CMA is unlikely to be taken before the end of the parliamentary recess. The media plurality probe is expected to take about six months to complete.

Still dealing with the fallout from sexual harassment scandals at Fox News, 21st Century Fox has recently become embroiled in fresh controversy over allegations that Fox News gave advance notice to the White House over a subsequently discredited story involving the hacking of Democratic National Convention emails and the death of a DNC campaigner. Rod Wheeler, a private investigator hired by a leading supporter of President Trump to investigate the case, is suing the channel after alleging it published false quotes attributed to him.

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