March 2, 2017 / 10:29 PM / 6 months ago

James Murdoch praises British TV, seeking Sky deal approval

James Murdoch, the son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and his wife Kathryn Hufschmid in London, Britain March 5, 2016.Neil Hall

LONDON (Reuters) - James Murdoch, the chief executive of Twenty-First Century Fox (FOXA.O), lauded the quality of Britain's television industry on Thursday as the company makes a fresh attempt to gain control of European TV business Sky (SKYB.L).

Fox, which is controlled by the Murdoch family, launched a 11.7 billion pound ($14.4 billion) bid to take full control of Sky in December, seeking to fulfil an ambition that was thwarted in 2011 by a phone-hacking scandal at their British newspapers.

Murdoch, who was previously CEO and is currently chairman of Sky, said the sector had changed radically since his company's previous attempt to buy Sky in 2011.

The deal, which has been recommended by Sky's board, is set to be referred to European regulators imminently.

Some opposition UK lawmakers are opposed to Fox taking full control of Sky by buying the 61 percent it does not already own.

They want the bid rejected on competition grounds, saying it would concentrate too much media power in the family's companies.

"We are in an era of ultimate plurality, where choices, sources, and access are multiplied, even from where we were only five years ago," Murdoch said at the Deloitte-Enders Analysis Media and Telecoms conference.

In the past, Murdoch has been highly critical of how Britain's TV market was regulated, saying in a 2009 speech that the reach and ambition of the publicly-funded BBC was "chilling".

But on Thursday he said Britain's creative economy "stood tall on the world stage", and its television and film content had a global resonance, with storytelling that was "smart, often a touch off-centre, but always on point".

"It is this country's balanced creative economy, with strong public service output, a vibrant commercial sector, and a diverse and independent tradition of impartial news that adds up to an environment for innovation and growth that we believe out-punches many larger markets," he said.

"And Sky, of course, is an important part of this rapidly evolving sector."

Asked about his conversion to backing public sector broadcasting, he said there was now "real clarity" about the role and remit of public sector broadcasters, which did "a lot of great work". The industry as a whole had become "super competitive", he said, warning of new entrants armed with capital and a "predisposition for disruption".

Sky was an important player in the industry, he said, and committed to spending at least 700 million pounds a year on original British production.

"Because the U.K. creative economy has such potential we believe it is the best place to be proposing a nearly 12 billion pound investment – which will be a significant driver of the U.K. creative industry's long-term success in a global market," he said.

($1 = 0.8147 pounds)

Editing by Ruth Pitchford

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