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UK antitrust watchdog outlines scope of 21st Century Fox, Sky deal probe

The U.K. Competition and Markets Authority on Oct. 10 released a statement outlining how the watchdog intends to approach its probe into 21st Century Fox Inc.'s proposed takeover of Sky plc on public interest grounds.

Following the deal's referral by Karen Bradley, U.K. secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, the CMA will now assess whether the £11.7 billion deal would impact media plurality and broadcasting standards in Britain.

In particular, the watchdog would investigate whether there would be sufficient plurality of persons post-deal completion, based on how the country's media and telecom regulator Ofcom defined "media plurality." Included in this issue is whether the Murdoch Family Trust's ability to control editorial and commercial decisions at Sky News would change, since the deal involves a full takeover of pay TV giant Sky.

The CMA would also look into how 21st Century Fox, Sky, the Murdoch Family Trust and related company News Corp. ensure their compliance with U.K. broadcasting standards. It comes after a report found that actions to ensure media compliance were only put in place after Ofcom flagged concerns on the matter. This comes just as Fox News earlier withdrew from the British market.

Anne Lambert, chair of the investigating panel, said the watchdog will rely on its "extensive experience of investigating different issues in a wide range of sectors" in probing the deal.

In response, 21st Century Fox said it is looking forward to working with the CMA in a "thorough and constructive review" of the proposed takeover.

The CMA will accept submissions from the public on the issues until Oct. 24. It will not accept comments in relation to competition issues since the European Commission has already approved the merger.

The watchdog has six months to complete the probe and give its recommendations, after which Bradley is expected to make her final decision on the deal.