Disney offers to buy Sky News to ease Murdoch's £11.7bn takeover

Move aims to allay media plurality fears over 21st Century Fox’s takeover of British broadcaster

Disney has offered to buy Sky News to help Rupert Murdoch push through his £11.7bn takeover of Sky by allaying fears he will control too much of the UK news media.

Murdoch’s bid is being scrutinised by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) amid concerns that buying the 61% of Sky his company 21st Century Fox does not already own will give him too much media influence. The Murdoch family also controls News UK, the owner of the Times and the Sun, and the radio station TalkSport.

Disney has “expressed interest” in buying Sky News, a move that would clear media plurality concerns and pave the way for its own $66bn (£47bn) takeover of most of Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, including all of Sky.

“The Walt Disney Company has expressed an interest in acquiring Sky News, with a view to adding it to Disney’s existing portfolio of television channels, whether or not Disney’s proposed acquisition of 21st Century Fox proceeds,” said Fox in a statement.

Disney, which has called Sky a “crown jewel” Fox asset, said it would “agree to sustain the operating capital of Sky News and maintain its editorial independence”.

The entertainment company said buying Sky News was not conditional on a successful takeover of Fox.

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Disney is hoping to get the deal done to see off its US rival Comcast, which owns assets including NBC Universal, which is seeking to derail it with its own much pricier £22bn bid for Sky.

Separately, Fox has further beefed up its pledge to make Sky News independent within the Sky operation. Fox has said it will fund Sky News for at least 15 years, up five years on its previous offer and 10 years more than its original proposal.

Politicians including the former Labour leader Ed Miliband, the Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, and the Conservative MP Ken Clarke have been vociferous in criticising the deal and calling for it to be blocked.

“We are aware that a group of politicians that is opposed to the transaction is seeking to influence the CMA and is making a number of unsupported and fanciful assertions,” said Fox.

Fox has said that it will look to legally separate Sky News from Sky, using the same structure BT used with Openreach, which the media regulator, Ofcom, said was enough to allay competition concerns raised by rivals.

Fox reiterated its pledge from Rupert Murdoch that he and his family would not seek to influence the editorial choices made by Sky News bosses.

“We offered this even though the record before the CMA shows that, over the course of nearly 30 years as Sky’s founding shareholder, neither 21CF [21st Century Fox], nor the Murdoch family trust, have ever sought to influence the editorial direction of Sky News,” Fox said.

Sky has previously warned it could close Sky News if Fox were unable to gain regulatory clearance for its takeover bid.

Shutting Sky News, which employs about 500 people, would eliminate the issues surrounding the deal but would have a hugely detrimental impact on wider plurality in UK news media. Ofcom has said the loss of Sky News could “present risks to plurality equal to or greater than those presented by the transaction itself”.

“Sky believes that both of these remedy proposals comprehensively address any plurality concerns the CMA may have, and would guarantee the long-term future of Sky News and its ongoing editorial independence,” the company said.

Contributor

Mark Sweney

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