Fox harassment claims create clouds around Sky takeover bid

Lawyer Lisa Bloom and regular Fox TV guest Wendy Walsh arrive at the office of Ofcom in London

Lawyer Lisa Bloom and regular Fox TV guest Wendy Walsh arrive at the office of Ofcom in London

A lawyer representing women who have accused some of Fox News' biggest figures of harassment says it would be "irresponsible" of British regulators to allow parent company 21st Century Fox's acquisition of pay-TV group Sky. The trouble for the company is that, on Thursday, Wigdor is going to spend rather a long time in the inner sanctum of Ofcom providing the kind of detail that can not be good news for the Murdochs' latest bid.

"Fox News terminated Slater before a single lawsuit or any amended complaint was filed", a Fox News spokesperson said. She claimed she was sacked in retaliation for reaching out to Paul Weiss attorney Michele Hirshman about the alleged mistreatment, a charge that Fox News immediately denied.

A second lawyer - Douglas Wigdor - will meet with Ofcom on Thursday to discuss allegations against Fox News made by 20 clients that he represents.

A BBC reporter approached him recently in Manhattan after the mogul refused a proper interview, asking if Murdoch is anxious about how the "Fox scandal" might affect his deal to fully acquire European TV giant Sky, or if "what's happening at Fox News" will be bad for future deals.

The letter detailed allegations of "gender and racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation" going back eight years at Fox, and said executives at the media company attempted to "intimidate and silence victims of discrimination and force them to litigate their claims in confidential arbitrations in order to prevent the public from learning about its unlawful conduct".

When approached in NY by the BBC, Mr Murdoch said he was not concerned about events at Fox. But his family and company's long-standing desire to take full control of Sky makes the timing of this scandal, and the series of visitors to Ofcom, rather annoying.

A previous bid from the Murdochs to buy Sky was blocked after a scandal over phone hacking at Murdoch-owned newspapers.

Ofcom is examining the proposed £11bn takeover of Sky by 21st Century Fox in the light of media plurality and broadcasting standards. There is, after all, a strong response from 21st Century Fox.

Robert Profusek, a New York-based partner at Jones Day and chair of the firm's global M&A practice, said he expects the deal to be approved.

Fox maintains it has taken decisive action to change its corporate culture, with numerous allegations remaining unproved. No wonder I didn't leave much of an impression.

The majority of the harassment cases involving Fox News remain unresolved however, so the concept of moving forward positively could be a tougher sell.

It has been a tumultuous few months for Fox News, with multiple high-profile claims of sexual and racial harassment aimed at its top brass.

When asked about losing three senior employees, Mr Murdoch replied: "Not the third person at all".

O'Reilly parted company with Fox last month after the company said it had given "a thorough and careful review" of allegations of sexual harassment.

That brings the total number of current and former FNC employees alleging racial discrimination at the cable newser to 16 - so far.

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