Britain puts Rupert Murdoch's $15 billion Sky deal on hold

21st Century Fox takeover of Sky referred to competition watchdog

LONDON-The U.K. government referred 21st Century Fox Inc.'s $15.5-billion proposal to consolidate ownership of Sky PLC to British antitrust regulators and said it was likely to broaden that review to include Fox's commitment to the country's broadcasting standards. While, the UK's broadcast regulator, Ofcom, has previously expressed concerns that if the Murdock family took over the entire of Sky it may have too much power over the UK's media ecosystem.

Third parties also raised concerns about what they termed the "Foxification" of Fox-owned news outlets internationally, Bradley said. "These are matters the CMA may wish to consider in the event of a referral", she finished.

Once a formal referral takes place, the regulator will have six months to conduct an investigation.

But CMA could also investigate the deal on grounds of "genuine commitment to broadcasting standards", the minister said.

On corporate governance, Ofcom did not find concerns that warrant a reference, but Bradley wants the concerns looked at by the CMA. Ofcom had originally found no concerns on that front, but she said that she had made a decision to add that second part to the extended review due to new evidence, on which she had consulted with Ofcom.

"Nevertheless we will continue to engage with the process as the Secretary of State reaches her final decision".

It sets up a potentially awkward encounter between Ms Bradley and James Murdoch, who is chief executive of Fox and chairman of Sky, at the Royal Television Society Convention in Cambridge on Thursday, where they are both scheduled to speak.

Rupert Murdoch's bid to take full control of Sky could be disrupted or blocked completely after the government unexpectedly raised a series of concerns about how Fox News has been run in the United States and the potential "Foxification" of the United Kingdom broadcaster.

Avaaz and several MPs including Ed Miliband threatened to launch a judicial review if Bradley did not refer the deal to the CMA.

Turning to the debate about possible corporate governance failures, Bradley said that Ofcom stated in its latest correspondence "that these raise non-fanciful concerns in respect of the broadcasting standards ground". "Following the additional representations, Ofcom has further clarified that "...while we consider there are non-fanciful concerns, we do not consider that these are such as may justify a reference in relation to the broadcast standards public interest consideration".

Fox said it still expects the deal to close by June 30 2018, barring any "further delays" to the process.

Fox already has a 39 percent stake in Sky.

Murdoch's media group is trying to buy the 61 percent of Sky it doesn't already own.

Bradley was under high pressure to carry out further investigation.

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