The United Kingdom’s culture minister on Tuesday said that she will likely refer 21st Century Fox’s bid to buy British outlet Sky News to the country’s competition watchdog to examine whether Fox has an appropriate commitment to broadcasting standards.
British authorities have increased scrutiny of the impending deal following several complaints raising concerns that the Fox News parent company is not fit to own Sky News. That scrutiny followed several resignations at Fox News over allegations of sexual harassment, as well as a lawsuit alleging that the network worked with the Trump administration to push a conspiracy theory about a murdered Democratic National Committee staffer.
In a statement to members of British Parliament on Tuesday, Culture Minister Karen Bradley said that the country’s communications regulator, Ofcom, found there are “non-fanciful concerns” about the company’s commitment to British broadcasting standards. Bradley said that Fox News had not had proper compliance procedures in place to broadcast in the U.K., and only made changes after Ofcom related concerns.
“The fact that Fox belatedly established such procedures does not ease my concerns, nor does Fox’s compliance history,” Bradley said.
Fox News has been cited by Ofcom before: The regulator ruled in 2015 that Fox News broke British law with bogus claims about Muslim “no-go zones.”
She also raised concerns about “corporate governance issues.”
“I agree with the view that, in this context, my proper concern is whether Fox will have a genuine commitment to attaining broadcasting standards objectives,” she said. “However, I am not confident that weaknesses in Fox’s corporate governance arrangements are incapable of affecting compliance in the broadcasting standards context.”
Bradley also said she’d heard concerns over “the ‘Foxification’ of Fox-owned news outlets internationally,” which she encouraged the competition watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), to look into if it does go ahead with a review.
The culture minister must first hear from the parties in the proposed merger before finalizing her decision to refer the deal to the CMA.
In an August 25 letter to the culture minister published on Tuesday, Ofcom wrote that certain “alleged behaviors” at 21st Century Fox were “concerning,” but that those failures should not prompt additional review. It appears Bradley disagreed that this finding does not warrant an investigation by the CMA.
“There were alleged behaviours amounting to significant corporate failures which were very concerning,” Ofcom chief executive Sharon White wrote. “However taking account of the nature of the failings, which did not occur in a broadcasting standards context, and the evidence before us of senior management efforts to rectify the situation, which included dismissal of those directly responsible, our judgment was that when taken together with the positive evidence of broadcast standards compliance, there were not concerns which may justify a reference on grounds of the broadcast standards public interest consideration.”
The letter did not say that the “alleged behaviors” were allegations of sexual harassment, but it’s possible that is what White was referencing.
Ofcom also reviewed complaints about comments made on Fox News, but the regulator determined that the instances did not warrant further investigation. In dismissing complaints about certain claims made on Fox News shows, Ofcom determined that “Hannity,” “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” and “Fox and Friends” are not news programs and therefore do not have a “due accuracy requirement.”
The regulator also considered the lawsuit alleging that Fox News worked with the Trump administration to push a conspiracy theory about Seth Rich using inaccurate statements. However, Ofcom said that it could not make a determination on the matter since the issue has not yet worked its way through the courts.
“If evidence of wider wrongdoing were to emerge at some future date it may be significant,” White wrote.
This post has been updated.