Sky's takeover by Fox cleared by the EU, but is it a fit and proper owner?

Ofcom needs to pay close attention to what has been happening over at Fox News Channel in the US

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The Independent Online

Sky’s takeover by 21st Century Fox is flying as far as Europe’s competition watchdogs are concerned. 

Rupert Murdoch might have little love for the EU, but look at this! Its regulators play fair. Shocka!

They’ve concluded that because Sky and Fox don’t compete much in the markets in which Sky operates in Europe; the UK, Germany, Austria, Italy, the deal can proceed. Without any conditions.

And so over to Ofcom. The broadcasting watchdog has to apply a different test. Is Fox a fit and proper owner for Sky?

Those that argue that it should say no have pointed to the phone hacking scandal that occurred at the News of the World, leading to the newspaper's closure, and the criticisms Ofcom levelled at the current Fox CEO, and Sky chairman, James Murdoch over his conduct in relation to the events. 

Of course, the newspapers are now part of a different company. The Murdochs have sought to highlight reforms there, and it has been pointed out that both companies have independent directors and shareholder bases (never mind that we all know who’s boss). 

However, it’s not just the fading phone hacking scandal that raises questions about the takeover. Far from it. 

The ugly events at Fox News Channel (FNC) in the US arguably raise far more pertinent questions that Ofcom needs to pay attention to.

First FNC’s driving force Roger Ailes left amid a string of sexual harassment allegations. Then still more emerged, this time against Bill O’Reilly, the network’s star. Mr O’Reilly has said his position makes him “vulnerable to lawsuits”. And there was me thinking it was the British that were supposed to regularly indulge in understatement. 

Other senior figures within the organisation have been drawn into the legal maelstrom there. It sometimes seems as if it is dealing with the fallout from more lawsuits than there are conservative talking points on one of Mr O’Reilly’s shows. 

In the last week, the network has been rocked by allegations of racial discrimination, centring on longtime Fox News controller Judy Slater, let go at the end of February. 

No less serious is the fact that federal investigators are looking into whether one settlement ever found its way on to the company’s books. 

Where am I going with all this? FNC is a key part of the organisation that is trying to take Sky over. 

Even if you accept Fox’s arguments that the phone hacking scandal isn’t relevant to the deal, with the newspapers now part of a separate (albeit Murdoch family controlled) business, that isn’t the case with FNC. 

The network’s problems have, for obvious reasons, not received the sort of publicity over here that they are getting in the US. 

But that shouldn’t matter to Ofcom. It needs answers from the company, because the issues raised are very relevant to its stewardship of Sky.

If Ofcom does approve Fox as a fit and proper owner for such a large, powerful and influential broadcaster, an organisation that remains the UK's dominant satellite operator, we need to see those answers and Ofcom’s rationale for accepting them. 

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