The Murdochs freed themselves of scandal just in time for a long-desired $15 billion takeover

Better safe than sorry.
Better safe than sorry.
Image: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
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The timing was not on Bill O’Reilly’s side.

With a long-awaited takeover deal hanging in the balance, sex scandals, public protests, and fleeing advertisers were the last thing Rupert Murdoch needed—especially after Fox News chief Roger Ailes was ousted over a similar controversy last year.

21st Century Fox, which is controlled by the Murdoch family and owns Fox News, is in the middle of a $15 billion deal to acquire (paywall) the remaining 61% of European TV giant Sky that it does not already own. Sky has the incredibly expensive rights to the best English soccer matches, among other offerings.

This is Rupert Murdoch’s third Sky-related setback.

Sky tried to buy Manchester United in the 1990s but this was blocked on competition grounds. Then, in 2011, Fox made its first attempt to take full control of Sky. It was toppled by the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, which forced the Murdochs to withdraw their bid. The controversy still weighs on the company in Europe.

The Murdochs, through another company, already own UK newspapers including The Times of London, The Sunday Times, and The Sun, as well as TalkSport radio. The new deal would put them fully in charge of Sky’s TV networks, including Sky News, as well. Regulators are investigating whether this would give them too much control over media in Britain, the Guardian reported.

That will come to a head on May 16, when the British communications regulator, Ofcom, will judge whether those who would be in charge—Rupert and his sons, James and Lachlan—are “fit and proper“ to run such a large media company. Ofcom will judge whether the deal is in the public interest, based on media plurality and concentration laws, and Fox’s commitment to UK broadcast standards like accurate and impartial coverage, according to the regulator.

Some analysts say booting O’Reilly when Fox did may shine favorably on the Sky review. “Credit to James and Lachlan for doing the right thing here,” Nomura media analyst Anthony DiClemente told the Associated Press. The brothers were seen as driving forces in removing O’Reilly after his 20 years at the US cable-news network.