NEWS

Rupert Murdoch Sky Bid: Ofcom Hears From Bill O'Reilly Accuser Amid 'Fit And Proper' Probe

After proposed £11.7bn Sky deal.

08/05/2017 18:00
Dimitrios Kambouris via Getty Images
Bill O'Reilly has been accused by several women of sexual harassment while he worked at Fox News

Regulators investigating Rupert Murdoch’s bid to takeover Sky have heard first hand the claims of alleged sexual harassment by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, amid pressure to derail the multi-billion pound deal.

Lawyer Lisa Bloom travelled to London with Dr Wendy Walsh to appear before communications watchdog Ofcom as it considers Murdoch-owned 21st Century Fox’s £11.7bn offer for the satellite company.

Walsh told The New York Times last month that after she rebuffed O’Reilly’s advances he did not follow through on an offer to make her a regular contributor to his popular evening show.

Michael Kovac via Getty Images
21st Century Fox chairman James Murdoch (left) with his father Rupert

Her allegation came amid a wave of revelations in the Times about O’Reilly’s conduct, which led to his departure from the news network.

Now Bloom contends that the toxic culture at Fox News casts doubt on 21st Century’s ability to satisfy the UK’s strict takeover rules.

Combined with phone hacking at Murdoch-owned former paper The News Of The World, Bloom wrote in a letter to Ofcom last month that “the company’s approach to business and management [includes] a lack of oversight, intervention, and decency.”

“Just like other prominent and controversial people, I’m vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity,” O’Reilly said in a statement on his website last month.

“In my more than 20 years at Fox News Channel, no one has ever filed a complaint about me with the Human Resources Department, even on the anonymous hotline,” he added.

Drew Angerer via Getty Images
Demonstrators called for O'Reilly's removal before his ouster last month

Both Bloom and Walsh appeared in person at Ofcom’s offices in the capital on Monday as part of a trip facilitated by activist network Avaaz.

Their submission is part of a probe of 21st Century’s bid - an assessment which includes consideration of a ‘fit and proper’ test regarding ownership.

Speaking outside the regulator on Monday evening, Bloom said: “In the meeting that just ended, I told Ofcom about the epidemic of sexual harassment and retaliation and allegations of racism rampant inside the Murdoch media empire in the US.

“It’s phone-hacking part two. The Murdoch media hacks, harasses and hides it with hush money.

“As with phone hacking in the UK, this Murdoch owned company has stood by senior staff they knew had acted illegally or immorally. Bill O’Reilly, who harassed Wendy, is a perfect example.”

It’s phone-hacking part two. The Murdoch media hacks, harasses and hides it with hush money. Lisa Bloom

It is the ‘fit and proper’ requirement which media commentators have said could explain the speed of action against O’Reilly at Fox News, after advertisers boycotted the network amid the numerous accusations.

Sky has long been in the sights of the billionaire Australian tycoon, who already owns 39% of the company.

But it was the phone hacking scandal which engulfed a previous Murdoch bid for full control of Sky.

In 2012, a parliamentary committee ruled Murdoch was “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company”.

It also found that 21st Century’s chairman James Murdoch’s insistence he knew nothing of phone hacking at The News Of The World raised “questions of competence”.

In a statement, 21st Century Fox told HuffPost that its efforts to tackle problems at Fox News “demonstrate its clear commitment to providing a positive, safe and inclusive workplace free of harassment and discrimination”.

It added: “The company’s management has taken prompt and decisive action to address reports of sexual harassment and workplace issues at Fox News.

“These actions have led to an overhaul of Fox News Channel’s leadership, management and reporting structure, and have driven fundamental changes to the channel’s on-air talent and primetime programming lineup.  

“In assessing and transforming the leadership team at Fox News, the Company has been focused on its long held commitment to a diverse workplace that promotes racial and gender equality, elevating Suzanne Scott to the post of President of Programming; along with the hiring of a new female CFO, Amy Listerman, to lead the financial operations at the Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network.  

“This newly instituted leadership structure at Fox News brings it closer in line with the wider practices at 21CF, where women serve as the Chair and CEOs of its Fox film studio as well as its Fox television studio and the Fox television network.”

Sky plc referred HuffPost to Fox’s statement.

Ofcom announced last month that it would extend the deadline for public submissions to its ‘fit and proper’ assessment due to the UK general election.

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