Rupert Murdoch offers to sell Sky News to Disney to win pay-TV prize

The current Executive Chairman of News Corporation and Executive Co-Chairman of Twenty-First Century Fox, Rupert Murdoch is seen talking on Sky News on television screens in an electrical store in Edinburgh. (REUTERS)
Updated 03 April 2018

Rupert Murdoch offers to sell Sky News to Disney to win pay-TV prize

  • Fox says Sky News could be separated within Sky Group
  • Sky shares rose 2 percent on FTSE-index after proposal

London: Rupert Murdoch ratcheted up the pressure on Britain to approve his $15 billion-plus bid for pay-TV group Sky by offering to sell or legally separate Sky News, aiming to head off objections the deal could give him too much political influence.
Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox said on Tuesday that Walt Disney Co. was interested in buying Sky News. Alternatively, Fox said, Sky News could be legally separated within the Sky group.
Even if Fox’s proposals satisfy Britain’s government and competition regulator, however, it may still need to raise its recommended offer for Sky after US cable group Comcast Corp. said it intended to make a higher counter-bid.
At 1350 GMT, Sky shares were up 2 percent at £13.24, the biggest rise on Britain’s FTSE-100 index and above both Fox’s bid and Comcast’s proposed offer, signalling investors expect any suitor will have to pay more.
Loss-making Sky News is the last regulatory hurdle in 87-year-old Murdoch’s long campaign to buy Sky, which has grown from its UK beginnings to become Europe’s biggest pay-TV group.
“We look forward to concluding this acquisition — finally — in a timely and expeditious manner,” Fox senior vice president Gerson Zweifach said, adding the proposed solutions addressed all concerns about the transaction.
Fox agreed in December 2016 to buy the 61 percent of Sky it does not already own, but the deal has been repeatedly delayed by the UK government and regulators, allowing Comcast to gate crash the deal in February.
Fox had already promised that Sky’s 24-hour news service would remain independent under the ultimate control of Murdoch, but critics, including some high-profile politicians, remain adamantly opposed due to Murdoch’s record of influence through owning the Sun and the Times newspapers.
As the Sky deal remained in regulatory limbo, Fox separately agreed to sell a string of assets, including its 39 percent stake in Sky, to Disney, potentially taking Murdoch out of the Sky equation.
Some Sky shareholders, frustrated by the delay, had already said Fox should increase its £10.75-a-share offer.
Their view appeared vindicated when Comcast said it would pay £12.50 a share to buy Sky, although it has not yet made a formal bid.
Fox said its new concessions went beyond the steps that Britain’s media regulator Ofcom said would mitigate concerns about Murdoch’s influence.
The company, however, needs to persuade another regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), and the government.
A CMA spokeswoman said on Tuesday it had until May 1 to provide its report on the proposed deal to Britain’s minister for digital matters, culture, media and sport. The minister, Matt Hancock, is due to make the final decision by June 13.

MATCHING COMCAST?
Fox said it could sell Sky News to Disney, or legally separate Sky News within the wider Sky group, so it would operate independently with guaranteed funding for 15 years.
One London-based hedge fund said the measures should be sufficient, but that “the price issue is not going away,” suggesting Fox would have to raise its bid.
Activist hedge fund Elliott Capital has been building a substantial stake in Sky in recent months, and on Tuesday it disclosed its interest had grown to 2.84 percent. Elliott declined further comment.
Analysts at Liberum said two factors pointed to Fox coming back with a revised bid to match Comcast.
First, Fox must have received approval from Disney to offer the concession, they said, and second, Sky said its independent directors remained focused on maximizing value for shareholders.
Separate news on Tuesday that Sky Italia had settled its long-running fight with Mediaset in the Italian pay-TV market also made Sky more valuable, they added.
A group of high-profile British lawmakers, including former Labour party leader Ed Miliband, called last month for Murdoch to be blocked from buying Sky, despite the promises Fox had already made to ensure the independence of Sky News.
The four said the promises did not go far enough, given Murdoch’s record of influence.
Fox said on Tuesday a group of politicians was seeking to influence the CMA, adding they were making “a number of unsupported and fanciful assertions.”


Google says misinformation campaign used YouTube to target Hong Kong protests

Updated 23 August 2019

Google says misinformation campaign used YouTube to target Hong Kong protests

SAN FRANCISCO, US: Google on Thursday said it disabled a series of YouTube channels that appeared to be part of a coordinated influence campaign against pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The announcement by YouTube’s parent company came after Twitter and Facebook accused the Chinese government of backing a social media campaign to discredit Hong Kong’s protest movement and sow political discord in the city.
Google disabled 210 YouTube channels that it found behaved in a coordinated manner while uploading videos related to the Hong Kong protests, according to Shane Huntley of the company’s security threat analysis group.
“This discovery was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter,” Huntley said in an online post.
Twitter and Facebook announced this week that they suspended nearly 1,000 active accounts linked to a coordinated influence campaign. Twitter said it had shut down about 200,000 more before they could inflict any damage.
“These accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground,” Twitter said, referring to the active accounts it shut down.
Facebook said some of the posts from accounts it banned compared the protesters in Hong Kong with Daesh group militants, branded them “cockroaches” and alleged they planned to kill people using slingshots.
China has “taken a page from Russia’s playbook” as it uses social media platforms outside the country to wage a disinformation campaign against the protests, according to the non-profit Soufan Center for research, analysis, and strategic dialogue related to global security issues.
“Beijing has deployed a relentless disinformation campaign on Twitter and Facebook powered by unknown numbers of bots, trolls, and so-called ‘sock puppets,’” the center said on its website, referring to fake online identities created for deception.
“China’s behavior will likely grow more aggressive in both the physical and virtual realms, using on-the-ground actions to complement an intensifying cyber campaign characterized by disinformation, deflection, and obfuscation.”

Misused by autocratic regimes
While social media platforms have been tools for people to advocate for rights, justice or freedom in their countries, the services are being turned on them by oppressive governments, according to the Soufan Center.
“Autocratic governments are now using these same platforms to disparage demonstrators, divide protest movements, and confuse sympathetic onlookers,” the center said.
Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous southern Chinese city and one of the world’s most important financial hubs, is in the grip of an unprecedented political crisis that has seen millions of people take to the streets demanding greater freedoms.
China’s government has publicly largely left the city’s leaders and police force to try and resolve the crisis, but behind the scenes online, Beijing is seeking to sway public opinion about Hong Kong, according to Twitter and Facebook.
“We are disclosing a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong, specifically the protest movement and their calls for political change,” Twitter said.
It said it had pulled 936 accounts originating in China that were spreading disinformation.
Twitter and Facebook are banned in China, part of the government’s so-called “Great Firewall” of censorship.
Because of the bans, many of the fake accounts were accessed using “virtual private networks” that give a deceptive picture of the user’s location, Twitter said.
Facebook said it had acted on a tip from Twitter, removing seven pages, three groups and five Facebook accounts that had about 15,500 followers.
“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government,” Facebook said.