The Government has said it will refer Rupert Murdoch’s £11.7 billion bid to take full control of Sky to a further inquiry because of concerns over media plurality.
Culture Secretary Karen Bradley announced it to the House of Commons on Thursday after media watchdog Ofcom investigated the bid.
The Competition and Markets Authority will now embark on a 24-week inquiry. The media magnate’s family owns News UK, the parent company of the Sun, The Times and Sunday Times and Sky News.
Bradley told MPs: “The transaction raises public interest concerns as a result of the risk of increased influence by members of the Murdoch family trust over the UK news agenda and the political process, with its unique presence on radio, television, in print and online.
“We consider that the plurality concerns may justify the secretary of state making a reference to the Competition and Markets Authority.”
After she spoke, Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson said he opposed Murdoch’s bid and pledged to fight it.
Watson, who co-wrote a book about phone hacking within the Murdoch empire, said Murdoch should not be allowed to sweeten his deal by making certain undertakings he can then walk back on.
“Any undertakings offered by the Murdochs are not worth the newsprint they’re written on,” he said.
“Ask Harold Evans or James Harding about the guarantees of editorial independence at The Times and The Sunday Times. Can the Secretary o State name any undertakings in lieu that the Murdochs have ever made that have been respected?”
He said Labour would review the rules of media ownership over the next 12 months.
“We’ve seen what likes an implicit bargain between the Conservative Party and the Murdochs. The Conservatives would give Murdoch what he wanted: the Sky Deal, blocking Section 40 and Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry and Murdoch would deliver Theresa May the landslide she craved,” Watson added.
“Well, it hasn’t quite worked out that way has it?”
Labour MP Louise Ellman said it was “vital that Rupert Murdoch’s bid is subject to the fullest proper scrutiny” and said competition authorities should hold a more detailed “phase two” investigation.
MP Jim McMahon said the bid should be blocked as it would put “too much power in Murdoch hands”.