Fox Stops Airing Fox News in U.K. Ahead of Sky Takeover Decision

  • Network halts broadcasts in U.K. for ‘commercial’ reasons
  • Exit comes as U.K. considers Fox’s $15.1 billion bid for Sky

Fox News is going off the air in the U.K.

Owner 21st Century Fox Inc. said it was pulling the network because of its small audience in a move that could also help address the government’s concerns about its 11.7 billion-pound ($15.1 billion) acquisition of Sky Plc, Britain’s largest pay-TV provider.

“It’s an improvement for the bid, for sure,” said Claire Enders, founder of media research firm Enders Analysis. “I don’t find it remotely surprising as a commercial decision.”

Allegations of misconduct at Fox News have stalled the takeover of Sky, with opponents raising concerns about alleged racial and sexual harassment at the channel. U.K. Culture Secretary Karen Bradley is set to decide whether to refer the tie-up for a further six-month probe in the coming weeks. An initial assessment in June by regulator Ofcom cleared Fox as a fit-and-proper holder of broadcasting licenses yet raised concerns about “significant failings of the corporate culture at Fox News.”

“We have concluded that it is not in our commercial interest to continue providing Fox News in the U.K.,” 21st Century Fox said by email Tuesday. “Fox News is focused on the U.S. market and designed for a U.S. audience and, accordingly, it averages only a few thousand viewers across the day in the U.K.”

Bradley has said she intends to further investigate whether the Sky takeover would give Murdoch and his family too much influence over U.K. media, while opponents of the bid have raised concerns over the prospect of a so-called “Foxification” of Sky News. In response, the company proposed concessions to safeguard the editorial independence of Sky News after the merger, an offer Bradley rejected.

Further Probe?

Bradley is also weighing whether to call for a further probe of Fox’s commitment to broadcasting standards, after a lawsuit earlier this month accused Fox News of fabricating quotes for a story. She received fresh advice from Ofcom on the merger last Friday.

“This decision shows the Murdochs panicking about their bid for Sky,” said former Labour leader Ed Miliband, an opponent of the deal. “Stopping broadcasting in the U.K. changes nothing. Fox News in the U.S. is the Murdochs’ channel, they are responsible for its broadcasting standards and the appalling racial and sexual harassment that happened on their watch.”

Ofcom’s initial June review found no grounds for further investigating Fox’s commitment to broadcasting standards, yet it raised concerns about the company’s approach to ensuring that Fox News complies with the U.K.’s broadcasting code. Fox said it implemented a new compliance process in May to address this issue.

“21st Century Fox has decided they will no longer broadcast Fox News in the U.K.,” Sky said in an email. “Sky’s customers can still enjoy a wide range of dedicated national and international news channels.”

Legal Challenge

Bradley faces the prospect of a legal challenge if she doesn’t call for a further investigation of Fox over its commitment to broadcasting standards, with the political advocacy group Avaaz saying it will take her to court over the issue. Avaaz has already started the process of a legal challenge to Ofcom’s June “fit-and-proper” ruling.

“Closing down Fox News in Britain is a desperate gamble by the Murdochs to persuade the government they are fit to take over Sky,” said Alex Wilks, campaign director at Avaaz. “Bradley must not be duped by this rather sad attempt to pull the wool over her eyes.”

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