21st Century Fox offers concession to seal Sky takeover

LONDON — 21st Century Fox has offered to insulate Sky's news operations from the influence of Rupert Murdoch and his family to win approval of its bid to take over the London-based pay TV company.

Fox, in a submission to Britain's competition regulator, said it disagrees with a preliminary finding that the takeover would give Murdoch too much control over the country's media. However, the company said that if the Competition and Markets Authority finalizes its earlier ruling, the best way to mitigate these concerns would be to create a fully independent board that would oversee Sky News and guarantee its editorial independence.

"21CF intends that Sky News will continue to operate as an editorially independent business unit within Sky following completion of the Transaction," Fox said in the document released Monday. "As one of the organization's founding shareholders, 21CF has been a supporter of Sky (including Sky News) since its origin. The transaction does not change that."

The competition watchdog must finalize its decision before making a recommendation to the government on whether it should approve Fox's effort to buy the 61 percent of Sky Plc it doesn't already own for 11.7 billion pounds ($16.3 billion).

The agency last month acknowledged that Walt Disney Co.'s $52.4 billion bid for most of Fox could eliminate concerns about Murdoch's control of the company, but said it was moving forward with its review because there is no guarantee the Disney takeover will be completed.

Fox said Monday that the Murdoch family would own less than 5 percent of the Fox-Disney combination after the merger. Because of this, the proposed "firewall" between Fox and Sky News should end once the merger is completed, Fox said.

A group of lawmakers, including former Labour leader Ed Miliband, also filed submissions with the CMA on Monday, saying the regulator should recommend blocking the deal because none of the proposed solutions would eliminate concerns about the Sky takeover.

"Our view is that neither structural nor behavioral remedies proposed are an acceptable answer to the plurality concerns raised by the Fox takeover of Sky," the lawmakers said.

The competition authority last month said the Sky takeover raises concerns about Murdoch's power over British media because his family trust already controls newspapers such as the Times and the Sun, and the deal would increase its control of the influential Sky News channel.

Even before the Sky bid, liberal politicians claimed Murdoch had too much influence over public debate, with his papers often supporting conservative causes.

Sky operates in Austria, Germany, Ireland and Italy as well as the U.K. It has 22.5 million customers, attracted by offerings such as English Premier League soccer and "Game of Thrones."

Murdoch's last bid for the whole of Sky foundered amid the 2011 phone-hacking scandal, in which journalists working for his newspapers were accused of gaining illegal access to the voicemail messages of crime victims, celebrities and members of the royal family. News Corp., which is controlled by the Murdochs, withdrew its bid for Sky soon after.

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