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Ofcom sets out tight timetable for Sky probe

UK regulator Ofcom has set out a tight timetable for its dual-track investigation into 21st Century Fox’s merger with Sky following culture, media and sport secretary Karen Bradley’s decision to refer the bid to regulators.

Karen Bradley

Karen Bradley

The regulator has published an invitation to comment with written responses supported by evidence to be submitted by March 30.

Ofcom said it also intends to request information from the merging parties. Requests for information will be made during the first week of the probe. Soon after the requests are made, the parties should discuss with the regulator the availability of the requested data and the form in which it will be made available. The deadline for this is equally tight – March 31.

Meetings with third parties may also be held where appropriate and as allowed within the timescale set by Bradley.

Ofcom has already started its own internal analysis, drawing from stakeholders’ submissions, information that Ofcom already has available in-house and any relevant further research that is necessary and is possible to conduct in the timescale set by Bradley.

If Ofcom’s provisional position is that the case raises potentially material public interest issues, the regulator will send an issues letter to the merging parties, setting out the core arguments and evidence in the case.

This will probably include the offer of an ‘issues meeting’ where the merging parties can discuss the draft position and the analysis underpinning it. Ofcom envisages an interval of two or three working days between receipt of any issues letter and the issues meeting. The parties may also submit a written response to the regulator’s provisional position within five days from receipt of the issues letter.

Ofcom will finalise its report and send it to the Secretary of State by May 16.

In addition to the public interest probe ordered by Bradley, Ofcom has a duty to be satisfied that the holders of broadcast licences are ‘fit and proper’. While this is legally a separate investigation, in practice the public interest and fit and proper investigations will overlap.

In addition to Ofcom’s dual-track investigation, the Competition and Markets Authority is to probe the deal on competition grounds.