A London High Court Judge has approved a legal challenge by global citizens movement Avaaz against Ofcom, calling to question the regulator’s decision that Fox and the Murdoch family could be trusted to fully control Sky.
Honourable Mr Justice Morris ruled that Avaaz’s case against Ofcom’s ‘fit and proper’ ruling in the Fox/Sky bid is arguable, raises important points of principle, and should be heard rapidly, before the end of June. The ruling rejects Ofcom’s claim that the Avaaz suit was without merit.
In response to the judge’s ruling, Ricken Patel, CEO of Avaaz, said: “If the Murdoch empire is fit and proper to hold’ broadcasting licences after massive hacking, harassment and hush money, then virtually anyone is. Ofcom has put licensing standards in the gutter with this decision. They got down there by steadily shifting the goalposts to ensure the Murdochs passed the test. The Murdochs may believe they are above the law but the court has made it clear Ofcom is not.”
According to Avaaz, the challenge presents another hurdle to the planned acquisition of the remaining 61 per cent of Sky Plc by Murdoch-owned 21st Century Fox. As with all broadcasters, a future merged Murdoch-owned Sky/Fox entity would need to be ‘fit and proper’ to hold a broadcast licence in the UK. Avaaz has accused Ofcom of clearing the Murdochs too easily without a thorough investigation of Fox News content or corporate governance failures across the family’s empire.
If Avaaz – represented by George Peretz, a competition QC and Azeem Suterwalla, a specialist in judicial review at Monckton Chambers – wins its case, Ofcom will be forced to reconsider its fit and proper decision, opening up the possibility that the regulator could examine significant new evidence on sexual harassment and phone hacking.
Avaaz challenged Ofcom’s fit and proper decision on four grounds:
Avaaz has campaigned against the bid since it was launched in December 2016.
Following Ofcom’s 2017 initial investigation, the bid is now in a phase 2 probe by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The CMA has made an interim ruling that the Murdochs’ full takeover of Sky would be against the public interest as it would give them too much power and influence. Avaaz has recently written to the CMA urging it to prohibit the Fox/Sky deal on this basis, until and unless the Murdochs sell much of Fox to Disney, in a deal announced in December 2017 that will take a year or more to clear.