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Fox commits to Sky News independence in bid to seal takeover

12 February 2018

Last month the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) provisionally deemed that the Murdoch family would consequently have "too much control over news providers in the United Kingdom across all media platforms and therefore too much influence over public opinion and the political agenda".

21 Century Fox has pledged to guarantee the independence of Sky News in a bid to win approval for the takeover of the channel's parent company, Sky plc.

21CF agreed to buy the remaining 61% of Sky in December 2016, since when a string of regulatory obstacles have forced it to extend its timetable for completing the deal.

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The "firewall remedies" were revealed in documents published by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Last month, the CMA provisionally ruled that the takeover would raise media plurality concerns on the basis that Rupert Murdoch would exert excessive influence over the United Kingdom news media.

Fox's submission said it was also willing to offer "a commitment that no employee or officer of 21st Century Fox, or a member of the 21st Century Fox board who is a trustee or beneficiary of the Murdoch Family Trust, will influence or attempt to influence the editorial choices made by the head of Sky News (including the selection or running of news stories or the political comment and opinion to be broadcast on the Sky News services)".

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The latest proposals include a so-called "sunset clause" relating to the separate agreement between The Walt Disney Company to buy 21CF's entertainment assets - including its 39% Sky stake - for $52bn.

Sky is 39%-owned by 21CF, controlled by the Murdoch Family Trust - which also controls News Corporation, the publisher of British newspapers including The Sun and The Times.

Last year Rupert Murdoch's firm announced plans to takeover the remaining stake of Sky, however, the United Kingdom government referred the proposed deal to the competition authorities to review. The CMA's final report on the takeover bid will be with Hancock by 1 May.

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Working under the assumption that the CMA does not change its mind, the conglomerate said its "proposed firewall remedies represent a comprehensive and clear cut solution that directly addresses the origin of the CMA's adverse provisional findings". Opponents of the deal also contend that the Murdochs and Fox, in light of sexual and racial harassment scandals at Fox News in the USA, would not be suitable owners of Sky, though this argument has been rejected by regulators.