* UK minister refers Fox bid for Sky to regulator
* Regulator to look at media influence, standards
* Fox confident of approval despite political opposition
(Adds opposition lawmaker's quote, background on James Murdoch)
By Paul Sandle
LONDON, March 16 The British government has
referred Rupert Murdoch's planned 11.7 billion pound ($14.4
billion) takeover of European pay-TV group Sky to
regulators to decide if the deal is in the public interest.
Media Secretary Karen Bradley told parliament it was
important to seek advice from the regulator Ofcom on whether the
deal would give Murdoch and his companies too much control of
Britain's media, and whether the new owner would be committed to
Murdoch's U.S. TV business Twenty-First Century Fox
already owns 39 percent of Sky. Murdoch and his family have
long coveted full control of Sky, despite the damaging failure
of a previous attempt in 2011 when their British newspaper
business became embroiled in a phone-hacking scandal.
Bradley has given Ofcom a 40-day timetable to investigate,
and expects to receive its report by May 16.
She said Ofcom, as an independent regulator, would assess in
the same time frame whether Murdoch's company was a "fit and
proper" holder of a broadcasting licence.
Twenty-First Century Fox said it was looking forward to
working with British authorities in their reviews of the deal,
and it believed it would be approved.
"We are confident that a thorough review of our track record
over 30 years will underscore our commitment to upholding high
broadcast standards, and will demonstrate that the transaction
will not result in there being insufficient plurality in the
UK," the company said on Thursday.
Some opposition lawmakers oppose the deal, saying Murdoch,
the owner of The Times and The Sun newspapers, would wield too
much influence if he had full control of a pay-TV group present
in more than 12 million British and Irish homes.
"Many of us believe if you look at the conduct of the
Murdochs and the untrammelled power they already have it is not
in the public interest for them to take over Sky and have full
control," Ed Miliband, former leader of the opposition Labour
Party, said on Thursday.
Miliband was a prominent critic of the deal the last time it
Murdoch's son James, who is chief executive of Fox and
chairman of Sky, was criticised by Ofcom in 2012 over his
handling of the phone hacking scandal.
The regulator said his management of the group's UK
newspapers at the time "repeatedly fell well short of the
conduct to be expected of as a chief executive and chairman",
although it said Sky remained a fit and proper owner of
Twenty-First Century Fox, which owns cable, film and pay-TV
assets around the world, said the media market had changed
dramatically in recent years as broadcasters face new challenges
from streaming services.
The Murdoch family's newspaper businesses have been split
from its television and film assets in a move that helped pave
the way for another tilt at Sky.
Sky has also combined its businesses in Britain, Germany and
Italy since the previous bid.
James Murdoch has sought industry backing for the deal by
recently praising the quality and creativity of British
television and the positive contribution made by Sky.
He said a Fox-owned Sky would spend at least 700 million
pounds a year on original British production.
Shares in Sky were largely unaffected by the decision, which
had been widely expected after Bradley said earlier this month
she was minded to intervene.
They were trading up 0.4 percent at 9.89 pounds. The buyout
offer is priced at 10.75 pounds.
($1 = 0.8100 pounds)
(Editing by Kate Holton/Keith Weir)