Ofcom is facing calls from a cross-party group of MPs to launch an immediate review of whether James Murdoch meets the “fit and proper” test to hold a UK broadcasting licence. Murdoch is CEO of 21st Century Fox, which has made a £11.7 billion (€13.7bn) bid for full control of Sky UK.
Organised by the former Labour leader Ed Miliband, the group has written to Sharon White, chief of Ofcom, saying there is an “unanswerable case” to open a review into whether Murdoch would pass the “fit and proper” test to be granted a broadcast licence.
Ofcom said: “We can confirm that we have received the letter, and we will consider its contents carefully.” The move comes as Fox races to make a formal notification to European competition authorities of its intention to buy the 61 per cent of the UK-based broadcaster it does not already own. Once the commission is notified, culture secretary Karen Bradley must decide whether to refer the £10.75-a-share deal to the UK competition authorities and Ofcom on the grounds of media plurality.
Miliband, an outspoken critic of the Murdoch family, writes that the regulator should investigate whether Murdoch would pass the watchdog’s test. “In the light of the real prospect of full ownership of Sky by the Murdochs, there is an urgency about these inquiries beginning straight away”.
“Clearly the bid would not be allowed to proceed by the shareholders if you were to rule that 100 per cent ownership by the Murdochs would make Sky unfit and improper to hold a licence.”
In a 2012 review, Ofcom concluded that Murdoch’s conduct at News International — the previous parent company for his family’s UK newspaper interests — “repeatedly fell short of the conduct expected of him as a chief executive officer and chairman”. But it concluded despite the phone hacking scandal at News International, there was insufficient evidence to conclude that James Murdoch “deliberately engaged in any wrongdoing”.