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.”


Al Jazeera continues to ‘provide a platform to bigoted and violent extremists’

Updated 26 May 2020

Al Jazeera continues to ‘provide a platform to bigoted and violent extremists’

  • Qatar-based media network has a turbulent past when it comes to extremist and anti-Semitic rhetoric

LONDON: Al Jazeera’s recent interview with terrorist-designated group Hamas’ leader Ismail Haniyeh, as well as its podcast glorifying killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, has stirred the ongoing debate surrounding the network’s alleged promotion of terrorism.

The exposure given to the controversial figures has prompted experts into stating that the station and news site continue to provide extremists with a platform to present themselves on.

“The fact that Qatar’s Al Jazeera Arabic continues to provide a platform to bigoted and violent extremists, including terrorists, obviously undermines the Qatari government’s claim to be a steady force for tolerance and coexistence,” Washington director for international affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, David Weinberg, told Arab News.

The station’s interview with Haniyeh served as a stage to threaten Israel with the fact that Hamas was still capable of kidnapping more Israeli soldiers, while the podcast allowed the Soleimani character a free rein to explain his support of terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and why he helped Syrian President Bashar Assad massacre his own people.

These were not the only controversies the network found itself embroiled in this month.

Last week, Al Jazeera’s Arabic news site carried a headline reading, “Martyr shot by Occupation forces in the West Bank for being accused of trying to run over soldiers,” to report on a Palestinian man who was shot while attempting to ram into Israeli soldiers with his car.

“Every time Al Jazeera calls somebody — anybody — a martyr, it violates the journalistic ethic of impartiality. What makes it much, much worse is that Al Jazeera consistently uses the term martyr to glorify terrorists, provided the civilians those violent extremists are trying to murder happen to be Israeli Jews,” Weinberg said.

“Encouraging slaughter of this sort does nobody any favors, not Palestinians or Israelis, neither Jews nor Arabs.”

“Al-Qaeda in Syria? Flattered by Al Jazeera. The Taliban? Flattered by Al Jazeera. Iranian proxies like Hamas and Islamic Jihad? Flattered by Al Jazeera. Al-Qaeda financier Muthanna Al-Dhari? Flattered by Al Jazeera. Media practices like these are unacceptable, immoral, and bad for people of all faiths and all nations,” he added.

Al Jazeera has a turbulent past when it comes to extremist and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Last year, its youth channel AJ+ Arabic drew widespread condemnation over an alleged Holocaust denial video that claimed Jews exaggerated the scale of the genocide in order to establish Israel.

The chairman of UK nonprofit organization Muslims Against Anti-Semitism, Ghanem Nuseibeh, told Arab News: “Al Jazeera has a direct editorial input from the Diwan in Doha (the sovereign body and administrative office of the Emir of Qatar), with the Arabic channel focused on promoting the extremist ideological discourse. This is their core constituency.

“It is particularly troubling that Al Jazeera Arabic website still to this day continues to host articles and videos of interviews by proscribed groups in the UK such as Al-MuHajjiroun, and freely accessible in the UK,” he added.

Earlier this month, a Shariah expert from the Qatari Ministry of Religious Endowments advocated the beating of women in an interview on the network, stating that they “need to be subdued by muscles.” And this was not the first time.

The station has also broadcasted a religious program hosted by extremist cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the terrorist-designated Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader. Al-Qaradawi, an outspoken Hamas loyalist who was featured in Arab News’ “Preachers of Hate” series, issues fatwas riddled with comments advocating suicide bomb attacks and praises to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler for “punishing the Jews,” on Al Jazeera’s media platforms.

“Al Jazeera’s motto is, ‘the opinion and the other opinion,’ but when it comes to the Muslim Brotherhood’s bigots and violent extremists, Al Jazeera Arabic still just presents one opinion, giving ikhwani (brotherhood) intolerance an unquestioning platform for broadcasting into millions of homes around the world,” Weinberg said.

The media network has also been called a “useful tool” for Qatar’s ruling elite notorious for their sympathies with the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorist and extremist groups. In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Qatar in order to pressure it to halt its alleged terrorism financing and shut down the network.

US Embassy cables acquired by UK newspaper The Guardian in 2009 proved just how interconnected the Qatari government and Al Jazeera are.

“Al Jazeera, the most watched satellite television station in the Middle East, is heavily subsidized by the Qatari government and has proved itself a useful tool for the station’s political masters … Despite (the government of Qatar’s) protestations to the contrary, Al Jazeera remains one of Qatar’s most valuable political and diplomatic tools,” the cable read.

Al Jazeera tangoes with terrorism

Favoring Daesh

• Do you support the Daesh group’s victories in Iraq and Syria?

• More than 54,000 people voted on the official page of ‘Opposite Direction.’ 81.6 percent voted ‘Yes,’ while 18.4 percent voted ‘No.’

Sectarian discourse 

• Al-Qassim said: ‘Why do you blame the regime? I want to ask you. Al-Nubl and Al-Zahraa are Shiite colonies in the heart of Sunni land. Kafarayah and Fu’aa are still living among you. Why don’t you expel them out as they did to you and curse the ones who gave birth to them?’

Party for a terrorist 

• Al Jazeera host: ‘Brother Samir, we would like to celebrate your birthday with you. You deserve even more than this. I think that 11,000 prisoners – if they can see this program now – are celebrating your birthday with you. Happy birthday, brother Samir.’

Al-Julani interview

• Interviewer: ‘What was the strategy of Al-Qaeda’s Sheikh Osama bin Laden?’

• Al-Julani: ‘He wanted to fight the Americans on their own turf, and that way to drag them into Afghanistan – because we were unable to send armies to (the United States). Sheikh Osama bin Laden’s goal in fighting the Americans was not to put an end to the American presence…’

Boosting terrorism

• ’We call upon the Islamic nation to rise up, and not make do with a futile economic boycott, in the face of this affront to our honorable Prophet. We call upon them to drive out the Danish embassies and ambassadors from the lands of the Muslims, and to expel them from the Muslim countries. They should take serious and immediate action to burn down the offices of the newspapers that affronted our Prophet, and to bomb them, so that body parts go flying, and with these body parts, Allah Almighty will quench the believers’ thirst for revenge.’