Rupert Murdoch will not look to strike a deal with the culture secretary, Karen Bradley, to make Sky News more independent and fast-track his £11.7bn takeover of Sky.
Bradley has given 21st Century Fox, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch and his sons Lachlan and James, until Friday to offer further concessions to attempt to prevent the deal being referred to the Competition Markets Authority for further scrutiny.
The lack of concessions from Murdoch will simplify Bradley’s review of the submissions her department has received since announcing last month that she is “minded” to refer the deal because of concerns that they will have too much control of news media in the UK.
This makes it highly likely that the culture secretary will just have time to announce that she is calling in the CMA before parliament breaks for summer recess at the end of next week.
In June, Bradley told Fox she believed the deal – which would mean the Murdochs control the Times, Sun, Wall Street Journal as well as Sky News and the rightwing Fox News – should probably be subjected to an in-depth investigation following advice from Ofcom that it raises significant media plurality concerns.
Fox will make a submission to Bradley that will criticise Ofcom’s review process and conclusions, but will not look to offer a remedy to strengthen the editorial independence of Sky News further to try to avert the deal being referred to the CMA.
Murdoch has already offered to fund a Sky News service for five years, with a separate editorial board, which Ofcom said mitigated media plurality concerns but could be strengthened.
Bradley rejected that proposal, which is termed a behavioural remedy. Ofcom also went a step further saying that it would most likely reject a full spin-off of Sky News – a complete structural separation – arguing that the loss-making business may become weaker over time therefore reducing media plurality.
This view is a volte face by the media regulator which, along with the then Office of Fair Trading, accepted a full spin-off as solving media plurality issues at the time of Murdoch’s 2011 bid, which was ultimately abandoned due to the public and political fallout of the phone-hacking scandal.
Fox is unlikely to want to waste extra time trying to try to fast-track the deal with new Sky News proposals in negotiations that seem doomed to fail.
With a weakened Tory government failing to win a parliamentary majority, there is also a view that there is no hope of accepting any offer over fears it will be seen as a political decision.
“At this stage of the process [Bradley] has only thin cover for any decision she makes,” said Claire Enders, of Enders Analysis. “Her job is to get maximum cover from any potential judicial review in the future. To protect herself and Theresa May from blowback by depoliticising the deal as much as possible.
“For the Murdochs, if the alternative [to an in-depth investigation] is to be a political football they would probably view the CMA as a good option. They may even come out of it giving up less [than negotiating now].”
Fox has taken the view that it is better to start the clock on the CMA’s investigation as soon as possible – it can take from 24 to 32 weeks to complete – rather than embark on almost certainly fruitless Sky News discussions that may not see that process start for several months.
As the timeline for scrutinising the deal extends, Fox may also run into issues as the spectre of the phone-hacking scandal returns with the Sun facing a new trial later this year.
And the Murdochs have come under pressure as allegations of sexual harassment have blown up at Fox News in the US – which have so far claimed the jobs of the late chief executive Roger Ailes, co-president Bill Shine and top presenter Bill O’Reilly.
If Fox fails to get the Sky deal done this year, which seems increasingly likely, the company has agreed to pay investors a special dividend equating to about £172m. If the deal were to fall through Fox has guaranteed to pay a break fee of £200m.
Campaigning groups have also made further last-ditch submissions to Bradley to try to ensure the deal is referred to the CMA.
“Rupert Murdoch will promise the earth to buy Sky,” said Alex Wilks, the campaign director at Avaaz. “But citizens don’t trust him and nor should ministers. Karen Bradley must trigger a full investigation of how the Murdochs operate before letting them take over even more of our media.”
Fox declined to comment.