UK clears way for bidding war over broadcaster Sky

Government gives conditional backing to media giants to bid for satellite broadcaster

Britain's Culture Secretary Matt Hancock arrives at 10 Downing Street in central London for the weekly cabinet meeting on June 5, 2018.  / AFP / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS
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The UK government has prepared the ground for a potential bidding war between rivals 21st Century Fox and Comcast for satellite broadcaster Sky.

Britain’s culture secretary Matthew Hancock said that Fox’s £11.7 billion ($57.67bn) bid could go ahead as long as it sold its 24-hour news operation and guaranteed its long-term independence.

Fox's efforts to buy the 61 per cent of Sky that it doesn't already own has been held up over concerns that the deal would give media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his family too much control over British media. Its media interests already include the popular tabloid The Sun and The Times newspapers.

The broadcaster shook up the UK’s television landscape when it was launched in 1990, revolutionising the coverage of sport with its subscription-based service and challenging the established order dominated by the BBC. It has more than 22 million customers in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria and Italy.

Mr Hancock said he was seeking guarantees that Sky News would remain a major UK-based news provider before he allowed the takeover to go ahead. He also agreed to allow Comcast's £22bn bid for Sky to go ahead to the next stage after considering public interest and media plurality arguments.

The decisions meant that a "bidding war is on the horizon", said opposition deputy leader Tom Watson, a staunch critic of Mr Murdoch who co-wrote a book about a phone hacking scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World newspaper in 2011. Mr Watson also highlighted a string of lawsuits for sexual harassment and discrimination against the US cable channel Fox News, also owned by 21st Century Fox.

Mr Hancock's comments followed an acknowledgement from Britain's Competition and Markets Authority that Walt Disney's $52.4bn (Dh192.5bn) bid for most of Fox could eliminate concerns about Mr Murdoch's control of Sky News.