U.K. Culture Secretary Quizzed on Fox-Sky Deal, Channel 4's Future

Credit: Getty / Dan Kitwood
U.K. culture secretary Karen Bradley

"British TV is one of our great jewels — and it can shine even more brightly," Karen Bradley tells the Royal Television Society's Cambridge convention.

U.K. culture secretary Karen Bradley on Thursday said now that she has decided to have the British competition authority review 21st Century Fox's deal for pay TV giant Sky more in-depth on two grounds over 24 weeks, people should let the experts do their work.

Bradley had earlier on Thursday made it official that 21st Century Fox's bid for full control of pay TV giant Sky, in which it already owns a 39 percent stake, will get reviewed on two grounds. She confirmed her Tuesday plans to request from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) a more in-depth review of the deal's effects on competition, or media plurality, and broadcasting standards grounds, even though U.K. media regulator Ofcom had said it felt the latter wasn't warranted. 

Appearing at the Royal Television Society's Cambridge convention, Bradley was asked if she had lost faith in Ofcom. She replied by saying that the threshold she had to apply in deciding whether to refer the deal on both grounds was simply lower than the one Ofcom applied. "I think now let's let the CMA do their work," Bradley said, declining to comment beyond her Tuesday and Thursday morning remarks on the deal review, highlighting that "I'm in a slightly difficult position, because this [a] quasi-judicial [process]."

Bradley said that was why she didn't talk to Prime Minister Theresa May, and "I took this decision." Talking about the CMA, she said "they are technical experts on competition in markets, and I want them to look at the concerns that were raised."

Fox in December agreed to buy the remaining roughly 61 percent stake in Sky for 11.7 billion pounds, which was worth about $14.5 billion at the time.

Earlier in the Cambridge convention day, Ofcom CEO Sharon White and Fox CEO James Murdoch gave keynote interviews.

Asked about a comment by Murdoch that he couldn't get a meeting with the U.K. government, Bradley said she wouldn't attend a Sky party at the convention, but declined to comment when asked if she was taking issue with members of past British governments having close relationships with the Murdoch family.

Bradley on Thursday also said British TV was "peerless" around the world. And she said she enjoyed her role, but said she doesn't want to interfere with the people working in TV. "It's not my job to decide what should be on TV," Bradley said. "I am here to encourage and occasionally cajole you. And I have immense faith in you. British TV is one of our great jewels — and it can shine even more brightly."  

Bradley also mentioned the need for more diversity on TV screens and behind the scenes as well as differences in pay, a reference to the much-discussed BBC gender pay gap.

In her appearance, she also reiterated that public service broadcaster Channel 4 needs to increase its presence and, possibly, commission outside of London to enhance its regional impact, suggesting it should move more decisions, and possibly, its headquarters outside the capital city. She didn't mention or suggest a specific city.

"Channel 4 has often led the way in representing different communities," such as disabled people, Bradley said. "People seeking to work in media should not feel [forced] to relocate to London." She said she hopes to reach a deal with Channel 4 by year's end.

Discussing public broadcaster BBC, Bradley said pay transparency was important and added "we expect them to lead the way" in that regard. And she said diversity was key, emphasizing that the BBC "must look like the country it represents, both on- and off-screen." After all, she said, "media is the prism through which the rest of the world sees us."

The secretary on Thursday also expressed pleasure about her duties. "I do have the best job in government," Bradley told the Cambridge convention.