June 29, 2017 / 3:56 PM / 5 months ago

Murdoch’s Sky bid promises lack credibility

LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Rupert Murdoch’s latest promises lack credibility. The media mogul’s 21st Century Fox offered concessions to protect the independence of Sky’s news arm in an attempt to secure UK government approval for its 11.7 billion pound bid for full control of the pay-TV company. Murdoch’s history of editorial meddling makes such pledges unconvincing.

Copies of The Sun newspaper are seen on a newsstand outside a shop in central London January 20, 2015. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The 86-year-old and his family had hoped this time would be different. The clan withdrew an earlier bid for Sky after a phone-hacking scandal at some of its UK titles. Since then, Murdoch has separated his broadcasting assets from newspapers like the Sun and the Times. The rise of digital media has also arguably diluted his print influence.

But because the Murdochs still own 39 percent of both Fox and News Corp, regulator Ofcom treated the two companies as a single entity, and concluded that taking full ownership of Sky could give the Murdoch empire the third-largest reach of any UK news provider. That would concentrate too much control over the country’s news media in the hands of one family.

In an attempt to soothe those fears, Fox promised to establish an independent editorial board for Sky News and to carry on investing in the loss-making service for five years. Ofcom accepts that the proposed remedies should help to insulate the head of Sky News. The problem is that future appointments to the editorial board would be made by a sub-committee of Fox’s board of directors – hardly a guarantee of independence.

Media Secretary Karen Bradley rejected the remedies, but might still wave through the deal if Fox comes back with revised measures before July 14. Investors are betting that is what will happen. Sky shares now trade just 8 percent shy of Fox’s offer, from 11 percent on Wednesday.

Murdoch has paid little attention to such guarantees in the past, though. His 1981 bid for the Times and Sunday Times came with commitments “protecting the editorial quality and integrity” that were subsequently ignored. A Special Committee set up to protect the editorial integrity of the Wall Street Journal after Murdoch bought it in 2007 did not prevent him from replacing the newspaper’s managing editor a few months later.

That track record undermines the credibility of the latest concessions. The government should ignore them and trigger a full review of the deal by the UK competition authorities.

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